Writing eLearning Scripts for NarrationEngaging eLearning Narration Starts with Compelling Copywriting

We have a saying at Left Brain Media: “People like two types of writing: good writing and their own writing.” All of us, including professional writers, have blind spots when it comes to our own work. Unfortunately, spellcheck and grammar check alone won’t transform mediocre copy into an effective narrative script. As a reminder to ourselves and to help others, our instructional designers put together this list of tips for writing eLearning scripts:

  1. Start with a Solid Framework
  2. Keep Your Audience in Mind
  3. Follow the Basic Rules of Good Writing
  4. Provide Cues for the Voice Talent
  5. Remember the eLearning Scope
  6. Make the Narrative Script Engaging
  7. Review, Listen, Tweak, and Get a Second Opinion

Let’s take a closer look at how you can carry out each of these tips when writing eLearning scripts.

1. Start with a Solid Framework

  • The prerequisites for script writing are an organized outline and well-defined, specific learning objectives. These tools help you maintain focus and prevent redundancy.
  • Before you write, perform a wellness check on your content.
    • Look for content holes. Do you have the information needed to flesh out the outline and address each learning objective? If not, reach out to the subject matter expert (SME) or, if its within scope, do research of your own.
    • Consider the source. Does the client have the legal rights to use the content and assets they provided? The assumption is “yes,” but that’s not always the case. For instance, let’s say a client provides you with an existing PowerPoint presentation to pull from. Once upon a time when the PowerPoint was created, its author included information from a book but forgot to cite the source. You might surmise the client “owns” a diagram, an idea or even the contents of entire PowerPoint. A simple internet search may reveal otherwise. If you are working with content that is not owned by the client or public domain, use a variety of sources and remember to cite them. (Learn more about copyright and fair use laws.)
  • Get the creative juices flowing by brainstorming about creative ways to present the content. After all, eLearning scripts should be both interesting and informative. While you may brainstorm on your own, at least initially, collaborating with others on your team can unleash even more ideas. Are there opportunities to take advantage of natural humor in the narrative script? Can you draw meaningful analogies? Make a list of possibilities, and then throw out everything except the best ideas.

2. Keep Your Audience in Mind

  • A good eLearning script writer tries to think like someone in the target audience.
    • “What do I know?” Telling the audience things they already know can cause individuals to tune out or even insult their intelligence. However, skipping over information could leave the more novice members of the audience confused. You have to walk a fine line to bridge the gap.
    • “What’s in it for me?” To engage the audience, early on your script should establish that this eLearning is not only relevant, but also beneficial.
  • When writing eLearning scripts, clarity is king. A good rule of thumb is to write at the reading level of your audience, but don’t make things complex just because your audience can handle it.
  • Sometimes writers steer away from using a conversational tone because the client wants to present a professional image. They equate “professional” with formal and traditional tones, but that doesn’t have to be the case. A conversational tone can be quite effective for most training audiences.

3. Follow the Basic Rules of Good Writing

  • “Write to express, not to impress.” In eLearning, your goal is to take more complex topics and make them easy to understand, not vice versa.
  • “Less is more.” If you can say it in fewer words, do so. Beware of redundancy.
  • Don’t forget to use transition phrases to help guide your audience from one thought to the next.
  • When possible, write in active voice rather than passive voice. Because of the sentence structure, active voice naturally creates a more dynamic and engaging narrative. Plus, it is typically more concise.
  • Use parallel structure when talking about items in a list or series. For instance, each item will be a noun phrase, verb phrase, or participle phrase, but not a combination of these. Following this tip makes a big difference in how natural the narration sounds.

4. Provide Cues for the Voice Talent

  • When writing for narration, always use Oxford commas (a comma before “and” or “or” in a series). This comma serves as a visual cue to the voice talent when recording so it’s clear how the sentence should flow. Failing to do so may result in the need for rereads. What it the client style guide does not support the use of Oxford commas? You can remove them from the narrative script after the voice over session but before the closed captioning is added to the eLearning.
  • Whenever there is an acronym that appears in your script that should be pronounced as individual letters, separate each letter by a period. For instance, instead of “ADHD,” type “A.D.H.D.” If an acronym is to be spoken as a word, then include instructions perhaps in brackets and/or highlighted. For instance, your script might say, “FEMA [pronounced fee-muh].” Remember to remove these notes from the script before it’s used for closed captioning purposes.
  • If there are scientific, industry-specific, or any other terms the voice talent may not know how to correctly pronounce, include direction for those, as well. You may even include a pronunciation guide at the beginning of the script.

5. Remember the eLearning Scope

  • As you write, keep an eye on the word count and how it compares to the target length of your training. Typically, the eLearning is scoped in terms of hours or minutes. Most voice talents narrate at a pace of 110 to 130 words per minute.
  • Be mindful of what the client aims to accomplish with the training, such as problems they want to resolve. These are typically outlined in the scope and reflected by the learning objectives. Address these items directly in the eLearning script. Then check for understanding by including questions about each of these items.
  • Before scripting activities, games, simulations, review questions, etc., make sure you understand what interactions are possible within the budget constraints. The quantity and type of interactions may have been included in the RFP and/or the Scope of Work (SOW) document, so you need to be aware of those parameters. Then write the best possible content for those types of interactions.

6. Make the Narrative Script Engaging

  • Clients often push for the narrator to kick off training by reading aloud the list of learning objective. This is a great way to immediately knock all energy and interest out of your audience. Instead, consider one of these alternatives:
    • Better: If covering the objectives up front is a must, write the script so the narrator invites the learner to read through them independently. For instance, the narration might say, “Listed here are the learning objectives for this course. Read through them, then click “continue.””
    • Best: Rather than overwhelm the audience up front, it is typically best to let the eLearning unfold more naturally and gradually. Consider including a general, high-level introduction up front. Then as at the beginning of each section of training, incorporate a more specific section intro. If the client still wants to include a list of learning objectives, they can appear section by section instead of one long list for the entire course.
  • Purposeful interactions can be a great way to engage the audience, but scripting in an interaction for interaction’s sake is lazy. When they don’t provide learning value, the audience sees them as a waste of time.
  • One of our favorite eLearning courses we produced taught much of the content only after asking the learner to take a stab at answering a short set of leading questions. Upon responding to a question, the course revealed the correct answer and played a short, one- or two-minute video. In it, a subject matter expert elaborated on the topic. Leading questions can be an effective way to wake up the audience to what they don’t know so they are more receptive to instruction.
  • On a similar note, if you can incorporate interviews with subject matter experts who are also good speakers, do so. They typically have passion in their voices about the content that professional voice talents can rarely emulate.

7. Review, Listen, Tweak, and Get a Second Opinion

  • One of best ways to spot issues in an eLearning narrative script is to have someone else review it. (Remember, we often have blind spots to our own writing.) If that’s not possible, set your script aside. Then come back another day and review it yourself with fresh eyes.
  • While simple, this final tip is a best practice when writing eLearning scripts. Listen to your script being read. Quite often, words on a page seem cohesive when read silently, but then they fall apart when narrated. Listen to your entire script being read aloud (by your computer, someone else, or yourself). Make note of what doesn’t sound right and look for ways to give the script a more natural flow.

It’s Harder Than You Might Think

Writing an eLearning script sounds pretty simple, but there are many nuances to consider. Maybe you would feel more comfortable having a set of experienced eyes review your eLearning script before sending it into production. Perhaps, due to a full plate or writer’s block, you are ready to turn the writing task over to someone else. The Left Brain Media team includes skilled instructional designers, writers, and editors, as well as programmers, animators, production artists, and more. We offer the professional services you need for effective eLearning solutions. Contact us, and we’ll be glad to set up a free consultation meeting to discuss your next project.

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