Instructional designers often need to write voice over scripts, but many of us never received any formal training on how writing for voice over is different from other writing. Several years ago, I completed a project with Jill Goldman of Goldivox. She did a terrific job and brought energy and life to my script (as a great voice over professional can). She graciously agreed to share her perspective as someone who has worked with many scripts. When we write scripts that are easy for voice over professionals to work with, we end up with a better product and spend less time on revisions and re-records.
The more clear your script is to me, the voice-over talent, the faster you’ll have your recording done, the fewer chances for needing to go back and fix it later, and the less it will cost you. Paying for script revisions or changes can be expensive. Better to put in the time and effort ahead of time to make the script as clear and readable as it can be, rather than play “fix it” later.
This is the first in a series of posts where I’ll share Jill’s insights along with my own tips and examples. Each block quote below is from Jill. Later posts in the series will address formatting scripts and pitfalls to avoid. Update: I added a few bonus posts about writing voice over scripts to the list.
- 2: Formatting Tips for Voice Over Scripts
- 3: Voice Over Script Pitfalls
- 4: Voice Over Script Review Checklist
- Bonus 1: Vary Sentence Structure in Voice Over Scripts
- Bonus 2: Avoid This Pitfall in Conversational Writing for Elearning
In this post, I’m focusing on writing style.
- The most important tip for improving your scripts
- Conversational style and flow
- Shorter sentences
The single most important tip
Most important in a readable script is the flow. If you only take one step to improve your scripts, do this:
Read your script aloud.
That will help you catch many of the issues I’ll detail in this series. Just reading it aloud will help you identify where something doesn’t flow quite right, sentences are too long, or a better transition is needed. Having someone else read your script also helps immensely.
Conversational style and flow
One issue Jill runs into with some scripts is language written to be read rather than heard. Try to make your writing conversational.
Not everything has to be conversational, but it should at least feel like it would come out of someone’s mouth. It’s different than writing for a reader.
Jill appreciates scripts that “flow well, with words that come easily to the brain and the mouth, and make sense.” One of the best ways to make your writing more conversational and improve the flow is to follow the first tip above: read your script aloud.
Using informal language and using first (I, we) and second person (you) in scripts makes them feel more conversational and personal. This is part of the “personalization principle” from Clark and Mayer’s research on multimedia learning. Conversational scripts aren’t just easier for voice over professionals to work with; they actually improve learning outcomes.
If you can rewrite the script as a dialog between two people, that can sometimes work even better. That naturally makes it more conversational. You can see an example of a course written as dialog in my story-based coaching and mentoring course.
Jill appreciates scripts with “shorter sentences, or at least carefully crafted sentences that aren’t too complicated.”
We need to breathe! And believe it or not, breaths can cost you money. Unless you want the recording to be full of breaths (usually clients want them edited out, or at least reduced in volume), whoever is editing the recording (whether it is me or someone on your team), will need to deal with those breaths. Think of how many breaths are happening in a long script for eLearning. Yes, we can try to take one big breath and get through a long sentence, but you will likely end up with a sentence that doesn’t carry as much meaning. Pauses and breaths help add to the meaning of a sentence. And some breaths and pauses are necessary. Long sentences can be OK, but please make sure they flow well, and that they are necessary. Otherwise, keep it concise.
A variety of lengths of sentences, including more shorter sentences, generally flow better and feel more conversational.
Using contractions if the style allows also makes the script more conversational.
And after all, you are having voice talent record the script for a person listening. The voice talent IS having a conversation, with your listener/learner.
I often find that I need more contractions than “looks right” to me on the page for it to really sound conversational, especially for dialog. My process is to write my draft and then go back through to add contractions during revisions. I know I have to make a conscious effort to add contractions.
Contractions are also related to the personalization principle cited above; informal language (including contractions) can increase the impact your courses have on learners. Learners tend to engage more with elearning that sounds like a real person, and real people use contractions when they speak. If your corporate style guide forbids contractions, try to get the rules changed.
It might seem like a minor detail, but punctuation can make your scripts clearer.
Well punctuated sentences guide the voice over talent about where to pause in the sentence. Otherwise, we will choose what we think is right, and it might be right, or might not be. In particular, if there is going to be a list in the sentence, please use commas, including before the last item on the list.
I generally prefer using the serial comma (also called an Oxford comma) anyway, whether it’s read or heard. It doesn’t increase confusion to add the comma, and it often reduces it. Unless you’re writing for a newspaper where the width of every character counts (and a newspaper isn’t a voice over script), add the comma.
Read your scripts aloud
Yes, I already said this once, but this is the big takeaway from this post. When you read your scripts aloud, most of the issues above will take care of themselves.
Attend my session on voice over script writing on January 28
I’m giving a session on Avoiding Voice Over Script Pitfalls at the next TLDC Community Day. This event on January 28, 2022 will focus on writing for instructional design. I’m really excited to be part of this event. Writing is an under-emphasized skills for instructional designers, but it’s such a critical part of creating effective training. Learn more about this upcoming event with TLDC, and come attend my session on 1/28/22 (time TBD).
Originally published 11/11/2014. Updated 1/13/2022.