How to Use Sensory Words

Why are learning texts usually so formal and often boring?

Why are we afraid to show ourselves in our writing for learning?

Why do we stick with text book styles?

Is it because we are afraid to leave a standard format?

Let’s be different and write something our learners enjoy but still meets learning objectives.

I got some of my old workbooks out yesterday and read them . . . and bored myself to a headache. So I went for a walk around the lake where the smell of rain still lingered in the air and birds were singing and the new ducklings were charging around like little motor boats.

Can you picture the scene?

That’s because of the sensory details.  You might think that sensory words are for poets and novelists.  For creative spirits – not for serious trainers like us.

But that’s not true.

Using sensory language can help you captivate your audience . . . an audience of would be learners. Sensory language helps learners experience your words, almost as if they are present, right as if they are with you in your training scenario.  In addition, sensory details add personality and flavour to boring content, helping you to stand out and make your teaching memorable.

The Science Behind Sensory Words

Sensory words are more powerful and memorable than ordinary words because they make your reader see, hear, smell, taste, or feel your words.

When reading non-sensory words your brain processes text.  But when you read sensory words different areas of your brain light up.  Your brain processes sensory words as if you taste a sweet cake, as if you see a dazzling display of colours, as if you feel a rough texture.

And we also know from research (Ref 1) that when we can hold a product the desire for the product increases.

Sensory words can even boost the learning process.

Sensory words can boost sales.  Research into menus (Ref 2) suggests that describing dishes using sensory words makes more people buy them.

So, sensory words have their own special magic.

What Are Sensory Words?

Sensory words are descriptive . . . they describe how we experience the word: how we smell, see, hear, feel or taste something.

  • Words related to sight indicate colours, shape, or appearance.  Example: gloomy, dazzling, bright, foggy.
  • Words related to touch describe textures, you can use them to describe feelings and abstract concepts too.  Example:  gritty, creepy, slimy, fluff and sticky.
  • Words related to hearing describe sounds.  Example: crashing, thumping, piercing, tingling, squeaky
  • Words related to smell and taste are closely related.  Most taste and smell words are easy substitutes for bland words like good, nice or bad.  Example:  zesty, tantalising, sweet, sticky, stale.
  • Motion is sensory too.  By using active words or describing movement, you help your learners experience your words.  Example:  vibrating, soaring, mind-boggling, staggering and bumpy.

Let’s get some excitement and engagement into our writing for learning as today’s learner has the power of the pause or even the off button.


Research into sales:  Ref 1      

Research into menus: Ref 2   

Next newsletter I will explore examples of sensory words in training narratives.

If you can drive a computer you can make a Modlette

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