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So, a panda walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. The bartender says, “Why did you do that?” The panda tosses him a wildlife manual and says, “I’m a panda. Look it up.” The definition in the manual read as follows: “Panda – large black and white bear-like mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
This is the story behind the bestseller “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” written by former editor, Lynne Truss. She uses this story to highlight the importance of proper punctuation in our writing. Because of one misplaced comma, our dear panda isn’t eating shoots and leaves, but rather eats, shoots and leaves. Who knew that punctuation could get a laugh?!
In the world of writing, trainers fall under the category of technical writers. We create procedures, manuals, job aids, proposals, and reports. How vastly different than the academic and literary worlds. We are interpreters. Our goal is to take complex, unknown material and translate it into simple, concise language for our audience. That’s our challenge. There is also a direct correlation between our writing style and the reader’s understanding and perception.
So how do we become better writers? Here are four tips to get you started:
Write Shorter Sentences
Limit sentences to 15-20 words. They are easier to read and write. The more periods, the better.
Write in the Active Voice
With an active voice, the subject (or doer) is named first. The verb (or action) is named second. The object (or receiver) is named third. A passive voice reverses this formula. An active voice ensures clear meaning and keeps the sentences from becoming too complicated or wordy. Writing in a passive voice can slow down the reader.
Here’s an example (yes, I can dream!):
Active Voice: The Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
Passive Voice: The Stanley Cup was won by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Use Words with Clear Meaning
Select words that are simple and easy to understand. Let’s not assume our learners know all the jargon and buzzwords in our industry. Use words that everyone can understand. For example, instead of saying the learner should “utilize” a tool, ask them to simply “use” the tool.
Follow the Rules of Punctuation
- Use a semicolon ( ; ) to separate two “balanced” sentences that are similar in thought and wording.
- Use a colon ( : ) to introduce a list or an example.
- Use an em dash ( — ) to emphasize what follows or to show a sudden change of thought.
- Use parentheses ( ) to show the matter enclosed is optional reading.
- Use a comma ( , ) to separate elements in a series of three or more and to separate independent clauses that are joined by and, but, or, nor, for, or yet.
With these tips, you’re well on your way to effective writing. The best way to get a point across is to take the simplest path. You’ll notice a difference in your writing and so will your learners.
Trainers, what tips can you share for an improved writing style?
Do you want to write clear, concise, and professional training materials? The Writing Skills for Trainers self-study kit shows you how to transform job-related knowledge and skill into written communication that is targeted to your audience.