How to Write Conversationally

I am fascinated that people pay money to create eLearning and then transfer the text from the manual into their online training.  

Why not just tell the learner to read paragraphs 7 to 8 from the manual and hope they remember what to do.  The beauty of eLearning is that we have so many tools and the ability to hold our learner’s interest.  

When it comes to narrative, where we are describing how to do something we need to get the maximum learning from this aspect of a modlette.

Sooo, how to achieve this:

Some say …  Just write like you talk.  

But it doesn’t always work like that.  Yes, when you write a quick email or social media update, it’s possible to jot down your thoughts as if you’re actually chatting on the phone.  But when writing long-form content or when you’re still working out what you want to say, writing in a conversational tone is more challenging.  A draft often sounds writerly, and you have to massage it until it become more informal.  

As suggested by Elmore Leonard: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it”  Want to know how?

There are three ways

  • Take out the writerliness
  • Turn your writing into a conversation
  • Add an air of casualness.  

I’ll show you the first one today.

The basis of conversational writing is a simple text so learners can follow your ideas with ease:  

  1. Elminate complicated sentences Complicated sentences (too common in eLearning narrative as we try to cover everything at once) are a sure sign of writerliness.  

So, keep your sentences simple and mostly short.  The occasional long sentence is fine as long as each sentence is easy to read.  

The key to conversational writing is not to keep all your sentences short but to keep your sentences simple.  Communicate your ideas in baby steps.    

2. Avoid the passive voice Pay attention to everyday conversations, and you’ll note that most sentences use the active voice:                    

”I always put a drop of oil on the gidget before replacing it in the tight coil, because it makes it easier to adjust.”  

The passive voice feels more writerly, less natural:                    

“A smear of oil should always be placed on the gidget before the insertion operation, making it easier to maneouver when adjusting”.  

I wouldnt say that.  Would you? 

So if you want to be less writerly, try to avoid the passive voice, so common in training narratives.  

3. Avoid writerly words Only use jargon if you’re writing for expert learners who use that jargon themselves, too.  

Otherwise, please …

  • Skip the posh words and gobbledygook
  • Use everyday words instead.  

As a learning designer, your job is to simplify learning for the learner, not to show them how clever you are.  

Here’s an example, “At Holmes Furniture we make furniture and think about our Customers,  That’s it.  Nothing else.  No distractions.  Nothing to steal our focus.  No kidding ourselves that we can be good at everything.  No trying to conquer the whole word.  We will just do our best to conquer our bit of it.  So each day we will come in and make the happiest Customers we know how.: 

This is the opening to a Customer Service Programme.  Not hard to get the intention of the company here.  

Note the everyday expressions:  That’s it, no kidding ourselves; we will just do our best”. 

4. Use transitional words often. Sooo…  

When we talk, we use transition words to string our thoughts together.  

Those transition words tend to be simple:  When, if, and, but, or,  because, so. However, when we try to impress with our writing, we use more writerly transitions such as:  Therefore, in contrast, additionally, furthermore, nonetheless, in conclusion.  

Copywriter Gary Halbert is known for his conversational style, and the casual phrase anyway is one of his favourite transition words.  It makes his writing sound like he’s chatting to you.  

Transition words create flow and help learners follow your text from one sentence to the next.

Moreover, if you choose simple transition words and use them often, your text will sound more conversational.  

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