Stu Neighbour

How to write well for better learning

How often when we’re writing up the requirements of a role – any role really – we include “written communication skills” or something fluffy like that in the list of technical skills required. And its always buried in the middle and we skim over it like it’s the word ‘milk’ on a grocery list.

Why don’t we just say we want the person to write well?

Not write good because good is an adjective -we’ll get to that later...

Or we won’t.

I mean write well.

Have your reader or learner get lost in the story you are telling, to see the language create moving pictures in their mind. To re-read a sentence again because you love the way the words roll off each other to create a popping sensation in your brain.

Why do we reduce such a critical element of human existence to “written communication skills”?

After working with many learning designers of the years, one of the things that separates the great from the competent is their ability to write sentences that not only make sense, but that linger in the memory for retelling at a later time.

Creativity and innovation and all those words are important, but they sit in ideation – and that’s something many can do. What seals the deal is to take that ideation and turn it into execution.

And a lot less can do that part.

That’s where your writing comes to the fore. And where many struggle.

In the learning game the importance of the written word cannot be understated. For the majority of what you create, its meaning and chances of it moving from short term to long term memory, from conscious to unconscious behaviour, lives in the words that you write.

And they have to stand on their own two feet. And this according to Verlyn Klinkenborg, is the lesson a writer (or a learning designer) learns most reluctantly of all.

"It's necessary to write as if your sentences will be orphaned, because they will be," he writes. "When called to stand in the court of meaning, your sentences will get no coaching from you. They’ll say exactly what their words say, and if that makes you look ridiculous or confused, guess what?" 

Once our sentences are written and on the screen or on the page for a learner to read, they are on their own. And they have to stand on their own and convey the meaning that the author wanted.

Here’s a quick tip to give your words and sentences a better chance of survival out there in the dark.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a workshop or storyboard, read your words aloud as you go.

Words sound different when spoken – what sounds ok when read silently on the page can sound jarring and rambling when spoken. Read your words aloud as you go to pick up on the rhythm or lack of within your sentences.

It will feel strange but it’s a simple way to take a scythe to your writing, and separate the wheat from the chaff.

And your reader will thank you for it.

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