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How to Write Training Materials for a Specific Grade Level

Posted by Paul Sitter on 3/13/14 4:00 AM
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One phase in the instructional design process is learner analysis. This analysis determines the characteristics of your target audience and will affect your design.

In training, we typically provide written documentation in the form of manuals, handouts, etc. One of the most important items to consider when creating the materials is the reading level of your target audience. This is typically expressed as a grade level. For example, I’ve written this blog at a 10th grade level.

There are two important details to take into account when considering reading levels:

1. What grade level do I target?

Your human resources department may track statistics about the average reading level of your target audience. If not, they can usually tell you the average education level achieved by the group of employees who will be trained. If you believe the average grade level achieved doesn’t necessarily equal true reading level (as I do), a safe reading level to shoot for is three grade levels below the average education level achieved. For example, if your learners are high-school graduates (grade 12) you would write at a grade nine level. If you have no information to go on, grade six is usually a safe level in which to write. Of course, if by experience you know grade six is too high, or if English is your target audience’s second language, you may write to a different or lower level.

2. How can I determine the grade level of the material I have written?

Part of the readability statistics that Microsoft Word provides makes it easy. Different versions of Word have slightly different procedures. For example, with Word 2007, once you have enabled the spelling and grammar checker, each time you click the ABC button under the Review ribbon, any grammatical errors will be identified. Following that, a dialogue box will appear with the last item shown being the grade level. To enable the readability feature for the first time in Word 2007:

  1. Click the Microsoft Office button, and then click Word Options.
  2. Click Proofing.
  3. Make sure the Check grammar with spelling check box is selected.
  4. Make sure the Show readability statistics check box is selected.

Once you’ve completed these steps, each time you press the ABC button, the grammar statistics, with grade level, will be the last item shown in the dialogue box.

When in doubt, make it simpler. People are seldom put off by material that is too easy to understand.

For even more detail on how to write training materials that are clear, concise, and performance based, check out our Writing Skills for Trainers workshop!

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Paul has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Bachelor’s degree in History. Throughout Paul’s career he’s had the pleasure of training for a variety of industries including sports, military, technical, aviation, and academia. Paul firmly believes with the right training and support, people can be competent performers in most positions. The organizational trainer is the key to providing that performance boost. In his spare time, you might catch sight of Paul on the sidelines of a soccer field, biking through Napa Valley, or spending some quality time with his family.

Topics: adult learning principles, tips-for-trainers, instructional design

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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