Do you need help to improve your writing to ensure people learn better?

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Written by Jo Cook on 24 July 2017

In any part of L&D we need to write: handouts, guides, quick reference sheets and many other types of job aids for our attendees and the organisation more widely. We probably are also writing our delivery notes, details in design of the learning solution, perhaps scripts for elearning narration or video recordings.

Regardless of the specifics of what you are writing, we can all improve elements of what we are doing for our various audiences. Colorado based Patti Shank has invested significant time and research in putting together her self-published book 'Write and Organize for Deeper Learning'.

The description on the front of the book highlights '28 evidence-based and easy-to-apply tactics that will make your instruction better for learning'. It’s the evidence-based element that especially excited me about in this book. At TJ we are always recommending that you find out more about what research really says about how we perform.

For example, listen to Jon Kennard and myself discussing the Mehrabian communication research in June’s podcast.

At TJ we are always recommending that you find out more about what research really says about how we perform. 

Shank’s focus in this book is on recommended tactics based on what research states are positive and impactful for learning. Research has been part of Shank’s career for a long time, including one of her roles as research director at the eLearning Guild in the United States.

Using this experience and skill the book is excellent to either introduce people to a more empirical way of working, or extending people’s experience of good quality practice.

I especially liked some of the openings of the book on learnability, memory and the brain. They're brief and to the point; a good level between an easy introduction to those newer to the topic and a reminder from Shank’s perspective for those who are more familiar.

A really strong chapter is one on audience needs. This is something that so many L&D professionals really don’t consider enough either in the consultancy phase or in design and delivery.

Shank states that “many people who develop instruction start with writing what they know, or taking what a subject matter expert knows, and putting it into authoring tools… Different people have different prior knowledge, and they don’t all understand the same things”.

Shank provides all sorts of tactics throughout the book to deal with various challenges. For understanding audience needs she includes: watching both general and specific work tasks; asking questions; having people think out loud; and using the existing data available to you.

There’s a chapter on writing for clarity, with eight specific tactics to help your practice; a chapter to help with readability, with another eight pieces of research-based advice; and the final big chapter is how to organise for memory and use on the job, with its own eight tactics.

Towards the end of the book, the tactic on making content job-ready really resonated with what all L&D practitioners and teams should be doing within their organisations.

Shank states: “You don’t want to hand people 83 job aids that cover all training tasks. Ask yourself this question: What am I training people on that either needs initial memory support (when they go to do it on the job) or will need ongoing memory support (because they will do it rarely, it’s too complex, or it has too many details to memorise)? Those are likely candidates for needing to be job-ready and not just training-ready.”

Shank goes on later in the section to highlight the importance of a training solution to practise the real life work task with that specific job-aid.

The last chapters include space for retrieval practice on the tactics and a check list of the advice from the book. As with any good researcher, the end of the book has lists of the papers and references that are useful for a deeper dive on the topics.

Shank practises what she preaches in this book, so it makes it easy to read, understand, learn and apply. You can’t say fairer than that!


About the author 

Jo Cook is deputy editor of Training Journal and founder of Lightbulb Moment. You can purchase Write and Organize for Deeper Learning on Amazon here. You can contact Patti Shank through her website and on Twitter @PattiShank.

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