Writing for eLearning

, , , | Colin Dawson

Promote Readability with Short and Broken Sentences

This subhead promises a benefit: that you’ll learn how to make your learning narrative more readable, which is one step towards the happy destination of writing engaging eLearning copy.  The subhead may also arouse curiosity as readers may not know what broken sentences have to do with readability.

Broken sentences?

Your high school teacher did not approve of using broken sentences.  But in high school, you learned a more academic way of writing.  Writing for eLearning is different.  Writing for eLearning needs to be easy to read.  Your learners don’t want to make an effort to read your content.

Short sentences are much easier to read than long, spiritless sentences.

The opening sentence (shown above) explains the key learning point in general terms.  I also mention the high school teacher because it’s often the biggest objection to using short and broken sentences.  I also remind Modlette designers that they’re not writing to please their high school teacher but to engage learners . . . this is a reminder of the happy destination.

Let’s have a look at Apple’s sales copy as a great example of how to write engaging narrative.

Apple copywriters don’t worry about starting a sentence with And or But.  They do it quite often:

It doesn’t seem possible (,,,).  But it is.  It’s our thinnest display ever.  And it’s the first of its kind.

And that’s just for starters.

Shorter sentences are easier to read and easier to understand.  And short sentences also improve he rhythm of copy.  Apple even uses one-word sentences:

All-new Lightning Connector.  Smaller.  Smarter.  Durable.  Reversible.

The examples in this section help show how the abstract advice of broken sentences works in practice.  This helps learners to see how they can apply the learning to their own situation, even if their situation is slightly different.

Using examples is key in creating a rich and rewarding learning experience.  Examples help learners understand what you are trying to teach them, and they also add colour to your writing.  They are probably the most important type of glue to keep learners engaged.

Next there’s a comment on the examples:

The staccato rhythm of one-word sentences helps draw attention to each individual word.  In contrast, the style you learned in high school is much weaker: All-new lightning connector: smaller, smarter, durable and reversible.

Can you hear the difference in rhythm when you read it aloud?

The iPhone 5 web pages have an average sentence length of 10.9, 11.9, and 14.0 words.  That’s very good.  And very readable.  This commentary confirms to learners what they’ve learned from examples.

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