Top ten tips for how to write an e-learning course in plain English

Plain English isn’t dull writing, and it’s not about banning new or long words. It’s all about using words that are easier to read and understand, and faster to write! Here are our top ten tips for writing an e-learning course in plain English.

1. Think before you write

It’s crucial to plan the structure of an e-learning course. List the topics which need to be covered. Make a note of the points you want to cover on each screen. Focus on the learning objectives – and bear them in mind as you write!

2. Keep your sentences short

Clear writing should have an average sentence length of 15 to 20 words. Be concise. Try to stick to one idea in each sentence, and vary your writing by mixing short sentences (like the last one) with longer ones (like this one).

3. Write like you speak

One of the most effective ways to engage a learner is to use everyday English. Scrap the jargon and avoid legalese, and always explain any technical terms and acronyms. A light and conversational tone works wonders for learning.

4. Use active verbs…

Active sentences sound more crisp and punchy, and will bring life to your writing. So, for a health and safety course, instead of ‘the accident was prevented by the employee’ why not write ‘the employee prevented the accident’?

5. …but don’t ignore passive verbs

It’s tempting to steer clear of the passive voice but there are times where it may be better to use: to avoid allocating blame for example (such as ‘a mistake was made’ rather than ‘we made a mistake’), or if it simply sounds better.

6. Avoid nominalisations

Nominalisations are a type of abstract noun and are formed from verbs. They make writing really dull and difficult to read so rather than ‘the introduction for the event was presented by the team’ write ‘the team introduced the event’ instead.

7. Imagine you’re talking to the learner

One of the most effective ways to emulate the best aspects of classroom training is to involve the learner by addressing them as ‘you’. Why not make them feel even more included by saying ‘we’ – it will add a human element to your writing.

8. Give instructions

Remember! Click the image below. Take a look inside your resources folder. These are all commands and are the fastest and most direct way to give instructions. Don’t be afraid to be bossy in e-learning – you won’t scare the learner!

9. Don’t be afraid to list

As I mentioned in a previous blog, not even lists have to be boring. They are useful for splitting up information in an e-learning course and, as long as they have bullets and are logical, they will draw the learner’s attention to each point.

10. Blitz those myths

You can start a sentence with ‘but’, ‘so’ or ‘however’ because that’s how we speak. And you can end a sentence with a preposition, like ‘for’. You can also split infinitives and seize the opportunity to boldly cause grammatical controversy!

About the author

Kim George - Instructional designer