Creating Conversational Narration for Your E-Learning Courses

When we talk to clients about audio narration, they all say they want it to sound natural and conversational. While the voice talent plays a big role in that, your writing style plays even a bigger role. For many writers, the most difficult thing about creating storyboards is writing narration that is conversational – or sounds like the average person is speaking when the narrator reads it. Why is that? Well, because most of us were taught to use stiff, “scholastic” language – often using the largest or most technical words possible in order for us to get the best grade. When I was working to get my Master’s degree, if I didn’t include the words “pragmatic” or phrases like “exploratory functionality” somewhere in my papers, I’m certain I wouldn’t have seen the grade I wanted – EVER! However, I rarely use these in “real life” settings. And, you shouldn’t use these in e-learning storyboards unless your entire audience uses them in conversation.

Let’s look at four tips on how to write conversational narration.

  • Use smaller words and less complex phrases when possible. For example, instead of “demonstrating the pragmatic application of a SMART goal for performance management,” you can “show how using SMART goals can help increase job performance.”
  • Use active voice when possible. A recent study suggests that individuals who dropped out of school when they were 16 find sentences written in passive voice more difficult to understand. And, a sentence written in passive voice is also generally longer than a sentence written in active voice. With that said, click here information on passive verses active voice and tips on how to use active voice in your writing from Grammar Girl.
  • Allow prepositions at the end of sentences. Really? Yes!!! We often end sentences with a preposition when we speak, so it is acceptable to do it in narration. Click here for a discussion on this from Grammar Girl. (Yes, I’m a fan and can’t find a way to explain either of these tips better than Grammar Girl does.)
  • Use contractions. In academic and business writing, it is common to avoid contractions. But because people talk in contractions, so should your narrator. Write them into the storyboards.

You don’t have to guess how readable your narration is. You can always check the readability level of the narration and adjust it as necessary. Most people read at the 8th grade level. You can check the level of your writing in Microsoft Word by enabling the readability statistics and then running a scan. The Flesch-Kincaid grade level test looks at the average sentence length and the average number of syllables per word to find the grade level. If you need to make a document more readable, use shorter sentences and words with fewer syllables.

CAUTION: When checking your readability use only the narration and not your programming instructions, or it may throw off your results.

To enable readability for Microsoft Word 2010:

  1. Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  2. Click Proofing on the right side of the dialog box.
  3. Click the Show readability statistics check box.
  4. Click Ok.

To check readability in Microsoft Word:

  1. Run spell check on your document.
  2. When spell check is complete, you will get the Readability Statistics window. In this example, the document readability level for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is 8.1 – which is an 8th grade level.

In case you are curious, the Readability Statistics window above is a capture of the window for this blog post. I intentionally wrote this at the 8th grade reading level.

Desiree Pinder
Artisan E-Learning

6 Responses to “Creating Conversational Narration for Your E-Learning Courses

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Excellent article and I enjoyed the explanations from Gramar Girl. I have noticed recently that more and more eLearning modules are using text-to-voice programs rather than voice talent. I am wondering what your experience is with these applications. I have yet to find on that sounds natural.

    • Diane Elkins
      5 years ago

      Text-to-speech certainly makes production (and edits) simpler! But most of our clients do not like the sound–kind of like trying to learn from your GPS. I do have one client who has chosen to use it, and they haven’t gotten any complaints. I’m currently looking to see if there’s any research out there on effectiveness and student reaction.

    • Diane Elkins
      5 years ago

      Text-to-speech certainly makes production (and edits) simpler! But most of our clients do not like the sound–kind of like trying to learn from your GPS. I do have one client who has chosen to use it, and they haven’t gotten any complaints. I’m currently looking to see if there’s any research out there on effectiveness and student reaction.

  • This is such an excellent point! So many business writers don’t realize the difference between the written and spoken word. I find this all the time with my presentation clients who write out a speech and then read it. It always sounds stilted.

    Your tips have application well beyond e-learning. And I LOVE Grammar Girl. Her explanations are so clear.

    • Desiree Pinder
      5 years ago

      Kathy, thanks for your comment. Grammar Girl is so clear, I can’t ever find a better way to explain anything she tackles!

  • Good one! I had no idea that Word has such an option.

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