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The Four C's of Writing

Posted by Langevin Team on 7/5/10 2:29 AM
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How many people have had the experience of sitting down at the keyboard, or sitting with pen and paper, intending to write the “final” copy of “something” on the first attempt? Then frustration sets in because it’s taking more time than it should. Welcome to the world of writing.


As training/learning professionals we are expected to put into writing what learners need to know in order to be successful on the job. Our job is to “simplify the complex, not complicate the simple.” This can be easier said than done. To ensure the success of our writing we should utilize the four Cs of writing: it should be Clear, Concise, Complete and Compliant. Let me explain.


1.  Clear

Our writing needs to be easily understood by the target audience. A clear beginning is a good way to start. Begin by preparing the learners for what is to come by including an objective (purpose), a benefit statement (“What’s in it for me?”), and an overview (summary of key concepts). The material should be structured so the content is easy-to-follow (i.e. there is a clear continuity of thought) and targeted to their needs (i.e. job-specific and written at the appropriate reading level).


2.  Concise

When it comes to writing, less really is more. To keep your writing short and simple, remember the following:

  • Don’t use more words than needed to get the point across (e.g. use “soon” rather than “in the near future”).
  • Use the active voice. The active voice makes your sentence clear, direct, and forceful (e.g. “The ball was hit by John” [passive] versus “John hit the ball” [active]).
  • Avoid the use of jargon. If you must use jargon, explain the meaning the first time it is used (e.g. “Always use NLP [Neuro Linguistic Programming] and PAL [Principles of Adult Learning] when designing training”).
  • Avoid redundancy. (e.g. Don’t say “I will use true facts to present my case.” Facts are true, so you only need to say, “I will use facts….”)
  • Try to use 15 to 20 words per sentence and four to five sentences per paragraph.


3.  Complete

Whether we’re writing a memo or a task analysis, our learners should have all the information needed to perform the next steps, or the job task, after they’ve finished reading our content. Where appropriate, provide examples, create case studies, role plays, etc. to make the content realistic or to illustrate a point.


4.  Compliant

This means following the rules of good grammar and includes rules for punctuation, spelling, grammar, and word choices. The wrong choices in any of these areas can confuse the learner and/or have an impact on your credibility. Find a good style book and use it. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus close by. Do not rely on spell check when proofing material.


Additional Considerations:


  • Remember that using punctuation such as commas, semi colons, colons, and question marks is like providing road signs. They are meant to help guide the journey. If you have a question about which punctuation mark should go where, check the style book.


  • Witch rite is write? Proofread your own work thoroughly; spell check would accept the previous sentence.


  • The eight common parts of speech are the following: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Make sure they are used correctly (e.g. make sure the verb and noun agree, and the pronoun and noun to which it refers agree as well).

Word choices

  • Deciding which word to use can be tricky. If you’re not sure which word to use when, consult a style guide to avoid misusing words like “used to” versus “use to” or “then” versus “than.”

Following these four Cs will make your job of “simplifying the complex, not complicating the simple” that much easier.


Topics: tips-for-trainers, instructional design

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