In our field, we often talk about conversational writing for elearning. A conversational tone flows better in voice over and leads to better learning outcomes. However, I sometimes see a pitfall in conversational writing, especially in less experienced IDs or teachers transitioning to the field.
Conversational tone doesn’t mean the narrator should pretend to be in a literal conversation with the learners, like this:
Do you know what kinds of questions generate deeper responses from clients? That’s right, open-ended questions.-An annoying elearning narrator
Avoid the pitfall: Talk to your learners like adults
I understand why someone might write in the style above, but I find it very patronizing in elearning. One of my SMEs called it the “Blues Clues” method of writing–you ask a question, then pause while people answer it. This is a pitfall in conversational writing you can avoid.
In Six Tips for Writing Better Elearning Scripts, Cammy Bean says,
Far too many e-learning programs patronize people, talk down to them, and essentially assume that people are idiots…The tone of voice you use should sound like an adult speaking to an adult, not a parent to a child.-Cammy Bean
Great for preschoolers
You see this strategy often in television shows for preschoolers. Daniel Tiger asks the audience to find an object on the screen of a certain color or type. After a pause of a few seconds, Daniel points out the right answer (which is highlighted on the screen).
It’s a great strategy if your audience is preschoolers. For adults…not so much.
Does your audience really know the answer?
One problem is that this strategy only works in situations if the audience already knows the answer. It has to be something blatantly obvious, or you can’t say, “That’s right” and assume everyone is correct. (Plus, if they don’t know, you just made them feel stupid.)
If it’s that obvious, maybe you can give your learners some credit for their existing knowledge.
As you already know, open-ended questions generate deeper responses from clients.-A somewhat less annoying elearning narrator
Even “as you know” should be used with caution. It’s only safe to use if you really are confident that people know the information. Maybe it’s review from earlier in the course, prior training, or your learner analysis showed that this is prior knowledge you can build on.
Alternative: Reflection questions
One way to avoid the pitfall of patronizing questions is by replacing them with reflection or connection questions.
Reflection questions that ask learners to connect their own experiences or to brainstorm multiple ideas are a better option.
These kinds of questions can make people think. There isn’t a right or wrong answer.
- What kinds of objections do your clients raise?
- Think about a time when the scope of a project changed. How did you handle it?
- Have you ever had a customer similar to the one in the scenario?
Those questions work because they help learners connect the training to their own experiences (activating prior knowledge). Multiple answers would be acceptable because everyone’s experience is a little different. It’s the questions where you’re leading them to a single right answer that annoy me.
What conversational writing pitfalls annoy you?
The “Blues Clues” style for questions is one of my pet peeves in writing for learning. Do you have a pet peeve of your own? Is there a pitfall you wish you could make disappear? You can share (or just vent!) in the comments.
Check out my posts for more information on writing voice over scripts for elearning.
Originally published 2/27/2018. Updated 4/13/2022.