Writing for Instructional Design

I had the pleasure of attending Connie Malamed’s session,  Instructional Design – Crash Course in Visual Design, at January’s Learning Technologies event. Inspired, I ordered her book Visual Design Solutions on the train home and later downloaded the free ebook Writing for Instructional Design, both can be ordered via theelearningcoach.com.

Connie explains that;

“Writing is one of the most effective forms of communication and is one of the most important skills an instructional designer can develop. You can describe, inform, explain, persuade and entertain your audiences through writing.”

Instructional designers (ID) normally work with a subject matter expert (SME) who, in my organisation, is responsible for writing the content and deciding what information needs to be passed onto learners to meet the learning objective. I believe that it is an IDs job to get to the bottom of why this training need has arisen and understand the changes the organisation would like to see. The information and content can then be manipulated into a final script so the message can be put across in the best way to aid engagement and retention.

script writing

Connie recommends 5 steps when writing;

  1. Prepare,
  2. Research extensively,
  3. Develop an outline,
  4. Write your draft (and revise),
  5. Proofread and finalise.


Any learning package should be fully scoped before reaching the design stage, along with a clear training need, the audience should have been identified. If an ID understands the motivation of the audience, their interests and characteristics then the learning solution can be designed using a suitable approach. Depending on the size of the organisation this maybe unknown to the ID and the SME may have to provide this detail. Defining what the learners need to know and/or do, will help decide on the most appropriate method of delivery and will allow all parties an opportunity to discuss possible limitations of the project.

Research extensively

Connie adds;

To explain a subject, you must understand it.

It is unrealistic to think that ID’s are knowledgeable in every specialist area, the SME has to provide initial content. The ID should then complete sufficient research to add depth, this maybe from other sources such as; reputable online content, books and interviewing experts. The ID needs to understand the information enough to ensure that the correct message is being expressed and content is highlighted where required.

Develop an outline

Without thinking about a logical order the learning solution developed may not meet the training need, the audience could get confused and loose interest. Placing all headings and subheading on to post-it notes may be beneficial to find a logical flow of content. During this time the ID should consider interactive elements to engage the learners and build these into the outline.

Write your draft

With a clear goal, research and outline in place its time to start writing and building the content. Use powerful words to spark emotions of learners and try to remove extraneous words as too much text can be off putting to a learner. Talking through the draft with a colleague can help you identify gaps before proposing the script to the SME.

Proofread and Finalise

Review each line of your work; rewrite poorly structured sentences and try to use an active voice. It is impossible to proofread your work as well as a colleague, ask someone to ‘get a red pen’ and spot any formatting or punctuation mistakes you may have missed.

It’s a big risk to release writing that has not been reviewed by another set of eyes.

Personal additional step – SME Review

After the 5 steps, I would add that any script should be reviewed by the SME. This will ensure that the content is accurate, the learning solution mets the training need and allows for another set of eyes to look for formatting or punctuation mistakes.

Script writing can take some time and during this stage the ID will require a lot of input from the SME. It may feel like little, to no, progress is being made on the development of the learning solution, however this process is essential to ensure that all parties are confident that the content is correct. If an ID has manipulated the information, added additional sources and re-arranged the content order an SME script sign off can ensure this is accurate and aligns to the organisations procedures and objective. It is also another opportunity to confirm the boundaries of the project and potentially could reduce the time required to review the final product.

Connie’s free ebook, Writing for Instructional Design, offers advice for writing for dry content, video and audio and provides links for further reading and listening.

The views and opinions expressed in the resources shared are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views do not necessarily reflect those of Focus ‘N Develop.

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