Turn Your Instructional Writing into a Conversation

I recommend the following 4 techniques as being the essence of conversational writing:

  • Remember who you’re writing for
  • Address your learner with the word you
  • Ask questions
  • Add personal comments

Here’s some ways to do this…  

Good training narrative is a conversation with your learner.  

And to make your conversation meaningful, remind yourself who you’re writing for.  Who are these hopeful learners?  What are they wanting to learn?  What’s their reaction to your writing?  

When they shake their head because they disagree, you can counter their objections.  When they don’t understand a phrase you can replace or explain it.  When a question enters their mind, answer it.  

It can be hard to write a first draft with your learner in mind.  Just getting your thoughts together is hard enough.   So, once you’ve written your draft with your learner in mind, try distancing yourself a little from yourself as the writer.  Try not to be too precious about your words and read them through the eyes of your learner.  How can you make your text clearer and more engaging?  

The better you can imagine your learner’s reaction, the more engaging your conversation with them will be.    

In a face-to-face situation, you talk a bit about yourself, right? And you also address the person you’re talking to?  

Well, it’s the same in conversational writing.  You address your learner with the word you, and you talk a little about me.  “Think about how the Customer feels, they feel upset or angry or anxious and this is important to them.  They think it matters.  Therefore it should be important to you.  Feelings are more often more important than words.”  

If you want to have a conversation with your learner, don’t create a monologue.  Use the words you, and your more often than the words me, my and I.

Questions are probably my favourite conversational writing technique.  The following is an opening I used in a training about writing sales copy…

“Do you ever find yourself staring at a blank sheet?                   

Struggling to find the right words without feeling ‘over the top’?                    You’re not alone.                   

Persuasive writing is probably one of the most precious skills anyone in business can possess.                   

But at school we’ve not learned to sell without feeling pushy” 

Want to engage your learners? Ask questions. 

Ask them whether they’re struggling with the problem you’re helping them solve.  Or ask them whether they’d like to achieve that aim you can help them with.  

Of course, asking questions only works if you understand your reader and if you know what they want or need to learn.  

Here’s a new trick I discovered recently.  Add a personal comment between parenthesis.  This technique is not widely used but it can work in places.  

The following piece is from the memoir “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)” by Nora McInernry Purpont                    

“This is for people who have been through some shit – or watched someone go through it.  This is for people who aren’t sure if they’re saying or doing the right thing (you’re not, but nobody is).  

Above, Purmont first addresses her readers as a crowd (This is for people who …); it sounds less conventional.

But then she adds a comment between parentheses, addressing her reader directly (you’re not, but nobody is).  That’s when it feels she’s talking to you.  

As we’ve seen so far, to write conversationally, first edit your text so it’s simple and clear.

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