5 Content Writing Tips For Instructional Designers

Content writing is something that every Instructional Designer does. Whether they do it well or not is a different story. My goal is to get you started using tools that will help you write better content. As with any good article, I’ll start by offering an answer to your question, “how do I create good content?”

Top 5 Content Writing Tips

There are several tips and techniques that you can use to write good content. Yet, there are no tools that offer recommendations on how to improve your content. An Instructional Designer’s goal is to distribute knowledge that leads to performance change. So, you must write your content in a concise format that is easy to understand by the general population. Here are my Top 5 tips to help you achieve this goal:

  1. Shorten your sentences – try breaking long sentences into two.
  2. Shorten your paragraphs – try applying the following rule: “one idea per paragraph.”
  3. Keep it simple – keep your content conversational, ditch the jargon, and use short words that will convey the same message.
  4. Use fewer syllables – use one- and two-syllable words.
  5. Write for the general audience – research says 50% of the US population reads at an 8th-grade level. Those who can read at a higher level don’t like to.

These five tips sound easy, but once you put hands on keyboards it can be challenging. But, there are tools that will measure the effectiveness of your writing. Let’s look at my favorite tools Flesch readability tests.

Microsoft Word Readability Stats

Microsoft Word has a Readability Statistic that you can enable (it’s not enabled by default). When enabled, the Readability Statistic window will give you some awesome data about your content. Including word count, the average number of sentences, words, and characters, as well as, readability scores. I’m going to focus on the readability scores.

But first, let’s enable this feature in Word. Open Word.

If you are on a Mac, like me, click on Word on the top bar, select Preferences, Spelling and Grammar. In the Grammar section, check all the boxes, Check grammar as you type, Check grammar with spelling, and Show readability statistics

On a Windows machine, click File, Options, Proofing. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, make sure the Check grammar with spelling check box is selected. Also, select Show readability statistics.

Now, open an existing document, and run it through Spelling and Grammar. Word takes you through your spelling and grammar errors, then displays your document’s Readability Statistics.

What is a Readability Statistic?

Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level are the two main readability scores. Both use formulas to test and score your content. It then tells you what reading level a person needs to understand what you wrote

Flesch Reading Ease formula = 206.825 – 1.015 (total words / total sentences) – 84.6 (total syllables / total words)

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula = 0.39 (total words / total sentences) + 118 (total syllables / total words) – 15.59

The key is to get a score Reading Ease score between 60 – 70 and a Grade Level Score of 8 – 9. These scores mean that you have written content that is readable by the general public.

The key takeaway is, sentences that have a lot of words are harder to read than shorter sentences.

BOOM! Simple, right? OK, Moving on.

Google Docs Writing Assistant Plug-in

I tend to do most of my content writing in Google Docs. I highly recommend using the SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant. It’s a tool for SEO content writers. SEMRush offers some good data on your writing including, an overall SEO score which is useful when writing articles like this one. According to SEMrush, I’m still a mediocre writer. I’ll take it.

Other Content Writing Tools

I learned to write in Spanish before I ever learned how to write in English. So finding tools that would help me become a better writer is important to me. As much as I dig, built-in tools, I also use some websites and apps to check my writing. Here are some of my favorite apps, websites, and books:

Apps and Websites:

  • Grammarly [life-saving tool – literally]
  • Hemmingway App [**my personal favorite**. Copy and paste part of or this entire article into the app to see the results]
  • Thesaurus.com [when I need help finding the right word]

Books

  • Strunk and White’s Elements of Style [my holy writing grail]
  • The Pyramid Principles [introduced by my friend Betty Michelle Doyle]
  • A Pocket Style Manual Reference [LOVE!]
  • Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace

Final Thoughts

As Instructional Designers, writing great content is an important part of our job. When content is too hard to read, your learners will not engage and they won’t understand the message. The readability scores are useful when you want to measure the ease of reading your content. Why not challenge yourself? Use these tools to write great content that is easy to understand and applied.

What’s in your writing toolbox?

Do you use any writing tools and techniques to help you write better content? Share your recommendations in the comments.

Myra Roldan

Chief Cloudification Officer, Maker of Stuff, Writer of Things, Explainer of Doohickies, Knowledge Distributor

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