What are your goals in writing scripts for your eLearning programs? Apart from transmitting the kernels of info essential to your training or learning program in the most engaging and effective way, that is. Did your program end up sounding as good as it looked? As a voiceover artist, I’ve literally read and performed the spectrum of eLearning writing styles. My experience with scripts, good and really bad has left me with some pretty strong opinions about the best practices for eLearning scripts intended to be spoken aloud.
Who better to give advice on how to write better eLearning scripts than someone who has been hired repeatedly to narrate tens of thousands of them?
Keep it Conversational
You’ve probably noticed. You might have asked for it yourself. A whopping majority of jobs requesting voiceover, including at least 50% of eLearning programs, are seeking a conversational voiceover style, as opposed to the “instructional”, “authoritative” or the very out-of-current-style “announcer” reads. But in order to make your script sound casual, it should be written in an informal style. Conversational writing for the ear is often more informal, and should match the way you speak.
A few years ago, a client essentially sent me a medical product monograph pretty much lifted word for word from the product insert from the packaging of the drug. And I was told to make this medical script as conversational as possible. I actually love challenges like this. Making dense vocabulary-rich material palatable and easily digestible to laypeople is one of my sharpened skills. But this one stands out among challenges, since conversations don’t usually include having a dictionary handy.
To write organically you have to do the same thing I (and other voiceover actors) must do to speak conversationally and with strong intent. A.k.a: Keep your audience in mind. Top of mind. As if they are in the room with you. Try to keep the language easy to comprehend and relatable. Avoid rambling on in long sentences. Employ storytelling to get your point across. And be respectful of your listener – keep the tone pleasant and interesting. You want to sound like a wise friend imparting information instead of the boring professor who drones on in monotone sentences stuffed with jargon while rarely taking the time to take a breath in between sentences.
Get into the habit of reading your script out loud as you’re writing it. How does it sound to your ear? Listen to your word choices and the cadence of your phrases. When you’re writing to be listened to and not read, keep in mind that audio content is processed by working memory, so when it comes to scripting, less is more.
Myriad Ways to Pronounce What You Write
Another important facet of writing better e-learning scripts is to pay attention to times when what you write can be interpreted or pronounced in myriad ways. For example, a common pronunciation pitfall occurs with numbers. 2019 can be “two-thousand nineteen” or “twenty-nineteen” in the context of a date. If it is not a date, “two-thousand nineteen” or “two-thousand AND nineteen” are choices. 675.98 could be “six-hundred seventy-five point ninety-eight”, “six-hundred AND seventy-five dollars ninety-eight cents”, “six-hundred seventy-five and 98 hundredths”, etc.
Additionally, you may include words that are commonly mispronounced in certain vernacular, such as “etc” being pronounced “EX-cetera” rather than the correct “ET-cetera” (decide which you’d prefer). Or words such as “biopic”, which looks like “bye-op-ick”, when it is actually “bio-pick”. Clarifying what you need for the performance of your script makes it easier for your voiceover artist to get a more accurate word count and will save time (and money) on back and forth with pronunciation questions and misunderstandings that can delay production.
It is also important to provide the intended pronunciation of any extremely complex or medical terminology. Words like “ischemic” could be pronounced multiple ways depending on the doctor you’re speaking to, so knowing what your medical SME intends for the voiceover on your e-learning project is extremely helpful.
Lastly, should extra emphasis be needed, especially in longer, complex or technical phrases, it can be helpful to indicate with italics where’d you like the emphasis. Keep in mind that the voice actor may be unfamiliar with your subject matter and may not intuitively understand what needs to be billboarded in your scripts.
Ah the Acronym. If your script includes acronyms, you’ll be saving a lot of time for everyone involved if you provide the intended pronunciations as well. Do you want the letters read as letters, or as words? For instance, SPAC which stands for Special Purpose Acquisition Company is commonly pronounced “spack”, but the ASPCA acronym is read as letters. A helpful notation if you want the letters pronounced as letters is often to add a dash between them, i.e. S-I-P-C.
And speaking of “i.e”, “e.g”, when you use these abbreviations in your script – items that when read are completely understood in context but lack that comprehension when only heard – let your voice actor know if you prefer “for example” or “in other words” or “that is” instead of the abbreviation.
Slashes are another visual item in your script that need some attention when spoken out loud. Be sure to communicate if you want the slash read, as in a web address, or if you’d like to substitute “or”, “and/or” or leave it unsaid. For example, input/output is often read “input output” without voicing the slash and good/bad is often read as “good or bad”.
We Don’t Talk in Bullet Points
Lists are also common to e-learning scripts. They’re so easy to create in linear writing because, again, our brains are able to integrate the visual cues of lists. But we don’t talk in bullet points. Even when we’re speaking in lists – “hey, when you go to the store, can you pick up eggs, milk, flour, and some vanilla?” – there aren’t any visual cues hovering above our heads making that list understood. The context of the sentence makes the list understandable.
So if you incorporate lists in your e-learning scripts, try to keep as much of that conversational tone as possible written into them. Incorporate transition words in your lists to clue in the listener that you’re approaching the end of your list (“eggs, milk, flour AND some vanilla”) and that a change in thought is up next.
Keeping this advice in mind as you’re writing your e-learning scripts will ensure your project sounds as good as it looks and avoids the common pitfalls that delay the project in back to back clarifications, or require revisions to the audio after the recording is delivered to correct mistakes that could have been avoided.