How to Write with Clarity

, , | Colin Dawson

Ever got lost in the bush?

Ever stared at a map, wondering where the hell you were?

Or you were arguing with your walking companion about whether to turn right or left?

Getting lost in training content makes learners feel bad, too.

But there’s one big difference.  When you were lost in the bush you were determined to find your way out.

Learners are less determined.  Their minds start wandering and they give up.

We try to simplify our message.  We do our best to write with clarity.  But when our audience read our content, they get confused.

Learners are in a hurry.  If it’s something they’re not so keen on (e.g., compliance training) they get easily distracted.  So, we must make our training content so simple, so crystal clear, that even semi engaged learners get hooked.

Communicating with clarity is probably one of the most difficult writing tasks.

Our efforts get easily sabotaged, without us being aware.  We try to communicate too much.  We try to impress with our knowledge.

When you follow the 4-step method below, your content becomes clearer, simpler and more persuasive.  Learners remember.  They take action.  They change their behaviour.

Step 1: Clarify your destination and define the shortest route.

Plan your content first:

  • Write down the purpose of your content in one or two sentences.  (You don’t need complicated Learning Objectives)
  • Create a list or mind map of what you want to include
  • Review the list and narrow down your instructions to only those necessary to do the task or items to remember
  • Review your purpose and your short list of content . . . will your content deliver on your promise?  Or should you narrow down your purpose?

Irrelevant ideas lead learners astray.  Keep your content on one simple and clear message.

Step 2:  Set up signposts at each junction

Travellers get lost when they have no clue of where they are.

With your learners, it’s the same.  They want to know where they’re heading next.

Firstly, learners need to get an instant feel of what the session is about as soon as they arrive:

  • When learners arrive at your introduction, they want to know what its about.  For instance:

Join Christy’s Journey to Recover Bad Debts

Secondly, add sign posts at every junction to keep on track:

In our next slides we will learn the benefit of the 5-step call.

Without signposts learners lose interest in your content.  Good signposts keep them engaged.

Step 3: Avoid vague route descriptions

Back in the day we didn’t have GPS’s and sometimes we had to ask for directions.  Some of us will remember.

Let’s compare two route descriptions.

  1.  At the third road, turn right.  Then at the second junction, turn left.
  2. After about 300 metres, you’ll see a church at your right.  Immediately after the church, turn right.  Go straight at the first junction.  Then at the second junction (this one has traffic lights), turn left.

The second description is longer, but its more concrete.  That’s why its far easier to remember.

Writing for instruction also needs to be concrete to be understandable:

  • Think in pictures . . . avoid abstract terms and generic descriptions
  • Add examples . . . case studies, mini-stories and examples make abstract concepts concrete
  • Try a metaphor . . . get inspired.

Abstract language baffles your learners. 

Vivid language makes your message memorable.

Step 4 : Simplify your words.

“Write to express, not impress” - Gregory Ciotti

At school, we received praise for using complicated words. And that's how we become our own biggest enemy when it comes to writing with clarity.

If we want readers to reach our destination, then let’s find the simplest route.

Would you rather go to a sunny beach?

Or, would you go to a place where a big sphere shines full of hot gas comprising hydrogen, helium and small amounts of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and more.

Difficult words make our learners tumble.  Long sentences wear them down.

So, use simple words and short sentences to communicate your message.

Now go to "Start a Free Trial" (top right hand corner) and show yourself how easy it is to write compelling and seductive learning.

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