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Better Grammar | More Impact

Let’s say you are an instructional designer or a performance consultant of one kind or another.

Guess what? You are, most likely, also a writer.

A Little Prickly
Better Writing | Fewer Sharp Spines

We end up writing a lot. For example:

  • Proposals, project definitions, design documents
  • Training materials, job aids
  • Change management or communication plans
  • Framework descriptions and plans for various interventions
  • Email
  • And so on

Here’s the thing: If you write better sentences, then your readers will take you more seriously.

Plus, without better sentences, coworkers and clients may have so much trouble wading through subject-and-verb calamities, misplaced or absent commas, and strangely connected clauses of various kinds, that they may just give up.

They will miss your message.

Leaders, managers, and clients read a lot during the day. Make it easy for them to read your work.

I know. English is not easy. It’s a life-long study. Nobody’s perfect.

To illustrate (with apologies to the original authors), here are a few sentences, which just happen to be about the ADDIE model. Let’s look at what we might do to fix them.

The ADDIE model expresses performance objectives during the design phase but other goals are also being met during this phase in ADDIE.

The first fix for this sentence would be to add a comma to separate the two independent clauses (right after “phase”).

Also, the ADDIE model doesn’t actually express anything. Designers write objectives, often (usually) during the design phase.

However, if you are ascribing human qualities to concepts on purpose (usually in less formal writing), then a little anthropomorphizing can be fun.

…it is believed that ADDIE is simply an overarching schema around which many instructional designs have rallied.

It is believed? Who believes? Let’s avoid the passive voice (with a few exceptions). This can be more difficult than it sounds. I confess; passive voice sentences are sometimes written by me.

We might also ask, Do instructional designs rally? Designers can rally, but designs do not rally.

The well-known ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) model has been widely used in developing instructional design and although it is not clear who originally came up with it, more than a model for specific steps to follow in the design creation of instruction, it is an umbrella of major processes, as Molenda (2003) states, in Instructional System Design (ISD) which may be adapted to any instructional design model.

There are 70 words in this sentence. It is easy to lose track of what the author is talking about by the time you reach the end of it. Breaking this sentence into several shorter sentences would make it easier to read.

So, to recap:

  • Join two independent clauses together with a comma and a conjunction. If they are closely related, you can use a semicolon (without a conjunction). Otherwise, make them two distinct sentences, or rewrite them in some other way.
  • Do not ascribe human qualities to animals or design models, unless you are a) Dr. Seuss or b) doing so on purpose (possibly to make a point or to inject a little humor into your writing).
  • Avoid the passive voice. Say, “I love the ADDIE model” rather than “The ADDIE model is loved by me.”
  • If your sentence has several main points or many, many words, try breaking it into two or more sentences. If your reader cannot remember where she started by the time she reaches the end of your sentence, it is probably too long.

If you write better sentences, your readers will be thankful. They will read more of what you’ve written, and they will take you more seriously, too. Besides all that, you will more likely have the impact you were hoping for when you sat down to write.


Post: Anthropomorphisms

Post: My Good Friend ADDIE

Post: Brevity Is the Soul of Lingerie and Abstracts

Post: How to Avoid a Common Comma Error: The Comma Splice

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  • jeannefarrington

    If you’re Hemingway, long sentences are just fine.

    With the fishermen and the life on the river, the beautiful barges with their own life on board, the tugs with their smoke-stacks that folded back to pass under the bridges, the great elms on the stone banks of the river, the plane trees and in some places the poplars, I could never be lonely along the river.

    – Hemingway, A Moveable Feast