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6 Tips for Avoiding Errors in Your Training Materials

Posted by Alan Magnan on 6/30/14 4:00 AM
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There’s nothing worse than reading materials you wrote months before and finding a bunch of writing errors in them. You were sure they were fine at the time. Now you see them the way your learners do: flawed and awkward. Here are six things to keep in your writing skills toolkit to reduce the chances of it happening again.

1. Use imperative sentences

There are four kinds of sentences: declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory. The point of training materials is to help people perform their jobs. Use imperative sentences (make a command or request) as the body of your learner materials. Write declarative sentences (form a statement) for introductions and summaries. Put interrogative sentences (form a question) in lesson plans as a useful tool for instructors during the training.

2. Write simple sentences

There are three basic types of sentence structure: simple, compound, and complex. Simple sentences contain one main clause that stands alone. Compound sentences contain multiple clauses that each stand alone. Complex sentences contain multiple clauses that depend upon other clauses. Stick to simple sentences as much as possible. They reduce your chances of writing errors by a huge margin. Use one verb per sentence for best results.

3. Keep sentences short

Short sentences are easy to achieve if you follow the tip above. But even simple sentences can get long and convoluted. Short sentences highlight an idea, while long sentences hide it. Aim for a sentence length of no more than 15 words. The average sentence length should be around 12 words.

4. Use simple words

Training materials involve technical writing. Unlike literary writing, its main goal is to convey instructions. You don’t need to be fancy. You just need to be accurate and direct. Use the simplest words possible in your writing. Rather than “utilize,” write “use.” Instead of “facilitate,” use “help.” Strive for words that fit the bill and have fewer than three syllables.

5. Use bullet points

At times, you will see many imperative sentences in a row. Format them as a list of bullet points. They’ll be easier to read. They’ll be more memorable. They’ll be easier to use as a reference after the training. Make sure you use parallel construction. All items in a bullet list must have the same structure.

6. Use a consistent style

Not all writing rules are clear-cut. For example, should you place a comma before the last item in a list near the end of a sentence? Should you use one space or two after the end of a sentence? There is no general consensus on these and many other writing rules. The trick is to be consistent. Ensure you use the same approach to a disputed rule throughout your materials. This also applies to margins, spacing, and heading styles.


If you want more tips and techniques on how to write performance-based training materials that focus on the "how-to's," check out our Writing Skills for Trainers workshop!

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Alan has been a course leader with Langevin since 1996. He studied business administration at Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology. Alan’s philosophy on training is that it can be fun, engaging, and active, but that’s just what’s on the surface. Training must also be practical, realistic, and applicable. Alan is a computer geek at heart and enjoys programming and gaming in his spare time. He’s also a great fan of the outdoors during the summer months, and when the winter moves in, you’ll find him reading, or recording and playing music.

Tags: instructional design, writing skills for trainers

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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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