Anyone who’s ever written will know that writing is not a solitary act. It is a process that encompasses a number of distinct jobs that include:
  • Researching
  • Writing
  • Editing
Let’s start at the beginning – when you just have a vague idea about what you want to write. Next, you research to streamline your thoughts and ideas. The next logical step is to assimilate all that data from research and use it to write something that flows and has meaning. However, how can you ensure that each time you write the result is consistently good? What process leads to a clear, coherent output?
Typically creative acts cannot be broken down into a well-defined process; and writing is a creative act. However, when writing as an Instructional Designer, you need to ensure that your output is consistent and aligns with the set standards and audience needs. To ensure consistent writing in your courses, you can break the writing process into the following stages: Pre-writing, Drafting, and Editing. The Pre-writing phase typically includes research and assimilation of data. Furthermore, in this stage, the content concept and structure need to be designed before proceeding further. In the Drafting phase, build upon the base structure to write your first draft and rewrite until satisfied. Lastly, in the Editing phase, edit and proofread your work for errors related to grammar, punctuation, and sentence construction. Think of the process as is if it were a funnel where you put all elements in the large end, and have a refined output as the end result; in other words, larger input, smaller output. Here’s a look at each of these phases in more detail.
Note: This article assumes that you are using the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate) model for managing your course development.
  • Concept clarity – As Instructional Designers, you need to first learn your topic thoroughly before you break it down to teach it through your writing. Hence, the quality of your written content is based on the clarity and competence that you acquire on the topics of your training. You can use various tools, such as, mind mapping, brainstorming, and discussions to gain a strong foothold on the concept(s). Mind mapping is an effective technique that not only helps you structure your thoughts around the course, but the mind map you create can be a great reference to assess and understand how the various topics are linked and render flow. Hence, it is recommended to create a mind map for course topics while you learn the content; that is, when analyzing and designing training. This results in better thought organization and information processing. To create a mind map, first place your key topic in the center, and then surround it with as many ideas and thoughts that relate to the topic as you possibly can. When creating the mind map, highlight how topics are linked and start working on the course flow. Group similar ideas together and form concept clusters. This will give a definite shape to your points. Purge your mind completely till you can’t think of anymore points on the topic and are confident that the topics flow appropriately. In this stage, it’s about the quantity of ideas.
  • Structure clarity – Next, prioritize your topics in a sequential order and create a skeleton for your content. A good structure should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and have a logical flow. Use the mind map to refine and finalize the course flow. This is typically done during the Design phase of courseware development. Note that writing with clarity doesn’t begin during the Development phase. It begins in the Analysis phase, when you develop clarity in your mind. Unless you have clarity on your topic, your writing will not be clear during course development.
  • First draft – Now that you have a structure, it’s time to write! Elaborate upon your topics and sub-topics to write a first draft. In this stage, you can overlook syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes. The goal is to write what comes naturally and not let those elements disturb thought flow. When drafting, you may again need to interview, brainstorm, or mind map to gain more clarity.
  • Rewrite – Writing is all about rewriting. After you compose your first draft, take a break and perform another activity before returning to revise your work. If time doesn’t permit, consider sharing the draft with a peer. This allows you to view your work with a fresh perspective. In this stage, it is about quality. So weed out all the excess and only retain what is absolutely necessary. Assess if the flow of content should be rearranged and whether any content addition or deletion is required. You don’t want to bombard your readers/learners with excessive information, but rather only serve up content that specifically helps in making your concept better understood. Check to see that there are no redundancies, and if what you’ve written makes sense and the meaning is clear.
In addition, ensure that:
  • Topics link to each other and are in the proper sequence
  • There is no ambiguity and excessive use of jargon or buzz words
  • The introduction and conclusion tie the whole content together and there are no stray concepts
  • You give paragraph breaks, i.e., one idea = one paragraph. This prevents the chance of two distinct ideas merging together, which causes confusion
  • You do not test the patience of your audience – get to the point quickly and stay there
This revision process may need to be done several times before you are satisfied with your work.
  • Read Out Loud – After you have rewritten your content, read what you have written, out loud! Hearing yourself speak serves the purpose of locating hitches and bumps in your writing, which are indicative of roadblocks to smooth flow. This practice further helps you identify aspects in your writing that detract from natural rhythm and clarity, such as, awkward phrasing, complex words, fuzzy, wordy, dense, repetitive, and tentative passages etc.
  • Sentence Clarity – Editing your work is the final stage in the process. Here, you should pay close attention to grammar, punctuation, syntax, and sentence construction. Think of this as the refining stage where you siphon off only choice particles for inclusion. Refer to the following checklist when editing your work:
    • Check to see if you can make a sentence simpler – avoid jargon, redundancy, and difficult words.
    • Write what you mean. Steer clear of the temptation to demonstrate your word power through pretentious words and euphemisms, as the meaning often gets lost behind them. Remember, your aim is effective communication and getting your point across, so shoot straight for the target. Write as you would speak.
    • Assign topic headlines if possible and use lists wherever you can, as they are easy to grasp at a glance.
    • Use metaphors to explain difficult concepts, but sparingly, as overuse may lead to confusion.
    • Check for spelling, factual, and grammatical errors. Nothing undermines your work as much as these simple mistakes do.
    • Construct simple sentences that are no longer than 20 words. It may not always be possible to follow this rule, but when in doubt, stick to this simple formula for sentence construction: Subject-Verb-Object.
    • (Last but not least) Distance yourself from your work and return to proofread your writing. Repeat until satisfied.
These pointers serve as a guide to a structured approach in writing with clarity, and a baseline upon which you can build on. This process can be applied to all writing – essays, storyboards, reports, or memos. We hope this breakdown helps you to better manage your content and develop an accurate and clear writing style.
Happy writing! 
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Summary: Writing with Clarity