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Writing Content that Sticks

Posted By Laura Selby Co-Chair, Publications SIG, Monday, September 16, 2019
Writing Content that Sticks

Laura Selby

Bradley Kolar from Avail Advisors opened the ACLEA Chicago meeting this summer with an engaging presentation on “Creating Learning that Actually Works.” He discussed foundational principles of good learning that creates “learning that sticks.”

He said that “good learning is about equipping people to make decisions” and suggested that:

  • training should focus on experiences and decisions as opposed to providing facts—just telling someone what’s new in an area doesn’t help them make decisions;
  • learners want to hear about how a subject matter expert thinks not just what the expert knows; and
  • good learning should be engaging.

I started to think about these fundamental principles in the publishing context. Are we “creating content that sticks”? Do our CLE publications equip our readers to make decisions? Or do they focus on telling the reader about information and not on what to do with the information? Do our publications present the content in an engaging way?  

Here’s my attempt to translate these fundamental good learning principles to the CLE publishing context so that we can enhance the usefulness of our publications to our readers.

  • Explain how a new development will change existing practice; don’t just set out the fact of the new development (e.g., don’t give a summary of a new case without explaining why it’s important or how it will change practice in the area).
  • Offer guidance to help make decisions (e.g., practice tips, decision trees, pros and cons of choosing procedures or adopting particular strategies).
  • Locate important information earlier in the chapter or paper and follow with the background information (i.e., the inverted pyramid).
  • Enhance the readability of the content:
    • Use headings and subheadings to break up the content and improve the readers’ ability to scan it for interest;
    • Write headings/subheadings that are active versus descriptive, where appropriate (e.g., Prepare the Witness for Examination versus Witness Preparation);
    • Write short paragraphs and break apart long paragraphs (that 700-word paragraph looks bad in print and much worse online!);
    • Use a variety of sentence lengths and structures to keep the reader interested;
    • Use the active voice; and
    • Write clear and crisp sentences—write to be understood.

What would you add to this list?

Tags:  content  learning  reader engagement  training 

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