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4 Tips for Using Simple Language in Training Materials

Posted by Jeff Welch on 7/27/15 4:00 AM
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When I order a pizza, the word “plain” is not in my vocabulary. I want the works! Give me extra sauce, extra cheese, and every topping imaginable.


However, when writing training-related documents such as job aids, manuals, or multimedia slides, I try my best to keep things plain and simple. As a matter of fact, writing experts suggest when writing for learning and development, a “Plain Language” approach should be followed whenever possible.


Documents that incorporate simple language are easier to read and comprehend. Training materials that are easy to understand may result in higher rates of performance improvement.


There are many best practices for writing from a plain language perspective. I’ll list a few techniques that I typically incorporate in an effort to make my writing user-friendly for any training audience.


1. Write For Your Target Audience

Long before you actually write any content, I highly recommend that you conduct an audience analysis. This will allow you to target the content specifically to your readers. Try to determine basic factors about your audience’s demographics such as, gender, age, race, culture, and socio-economic status. Understanding your audience may help you write more relevant and relatable documentation.

When researching your audience, you should also try to determine their knowledge level. Consider factors such as your audience’s subject-matter expertise and existing experience, as well as their educational and reading levels. Don’t assume when they read your documentation and materials they understand the content as well as you.


2.  Incorporate the K.I.S.S. Theory

K.I.S.S. is my favorite acronym which means “Keep It Short and Simple.” Consider writing your document using short paragraphs that are comprised of short sentences. The use of lengthy text can result in your readers losing focus, thus resulting in misunderstanding. Using short paragraphs and sentences, or even bulleted items, will help you maximize the use of the limited space of training materials.


3.  Use Simple, Familiar Words

When writing instructional or other training-related materials our main goal should be to communicate information to our readers. This type of documentation should not be used to impress our audiences by using large or complex words unnecessarily.

Using words plucked straight from a dictionary or thesaurus does not make the writer appear more intelligent. As a matter of fact, a recent Princeton University study indicates that using unnecessary, complex words makes the author appear phony and even less intelligent.

If you must use large or intricate words because they are industry-specific or there are no alternative words, by all means, use them. However, don’t use complex words in an attempt to take your documentation to a higher intellectual level. You could very well run the risk of confusing some of your reading audience.


4.  Give Direct Instructions

Unlike writing academic material (e.g. term papers and essays) or literary materials (e.g. poetry and prose), the tone for training materials should be instructional. As learners read your written documentation, it should sound like direct instructions or commands, similar to the example below:

  • Recommended Example: Engage the emergency brake when parking a company vehicle on a hill.
  • Not Recommended: It can be dangerous to park a company vehicle on a hill without first engaging the emergency brake, so this practice is highly discouraged.

By using simple language, your training materials will be more relevant, easy-to-follow, and instructional. Langevin’s Writing Skills for Trainers workshop focuses on this exact topic—using a clear, concise writing style—check it out!


Feel free to comment by sharing your best practices for writing from a plain language perspective. I’d love to hear from you!

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Jeff has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Speech Communications and Broadcasting from Western Kentucky University. Before pursuing his passion for training, Jeff worked as a television reporter, flight attendant, fitness instructor, and tour guide. Jeff started his career in training at the daily newspaper in Atlanta. Training seemed to be a natural fit for him since he’s always been a bit of a performer. When at home, you’ll catch Jeff watching a cooking show, recreating a dish he’s eaten abroad, or exploring one of the many great restaurants in the Chicago area. During the summer months, he hits the road to follow the talented drum corps of Drum Corp International—something he’s done since high school!

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