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Best Practices for Writing Scripts for Narration

Rachel Leigh

154 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 7:42 AM  

Normal 0 false false false oNotPromoteQF /> EN-US X-NONE X-NONE ontGrowAutofit /> Hi Folks,

 

Do any you know of any online sources with any best practices for writing scripts for narration for training modules?  If not, how about if we start our own discussion here and come up with some best practices?

 

Rachel


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Eric Nalian

572 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 7:56 AM  

When I am writing my scripts, I organize my content how I want it, simplify it down to the level of my learners and then write it out so the narration sounds natural and not scripted.

 

Listening to courses is awful when the narration sounds scripted.


Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 8:29 AM  

One thing I find useful is to mark the places in the text where I'll be making pauses for breathing or inflection during recording. It's really annoying when you're recording a sentence for the 4th time and your mouth insists on going faster than your brain, so you keep talking when you  shouldn't :P


Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 8:30 AM  

In addition to writing in a conversational tone, don't forget your transition statements when moving from one thought/module/chapter to another.  Something like "Now that we have a better understanding of xyz, let's look at how to apply it..." or "let's shift gears and look at..." type of statements.

 

When sending out your script for narration, don't forget to spell out how any acronyms or organizational-speak should be pronounced.  For example, if you have "REL" in the course, do you want it pronouned as "R-E-L" or "REaL" or something else.  Your narrator will greatly appreciate this, and it will cut down on any revisions.

 

Hope this helps!


Rachel Leigh

154 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 8:52 AM  

Thanks, these do!  If anyone else has something to suggest, please feel free to. 


Darrell Bird

16 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:36 AM  

We've been doing a lot of audio recording during the last year.  Mostly we're converting the knowledge-based parts of instructor-led courses into online training, as a prerequisite for the instructor-led content.  What we learned is that each instructor has his or her own style of "additional information" to be added to the base content.  We started recording the classes in order to learn what each instructor adds or omits from their classroom content. 

 

Based on this, the scripts we prepare are a compilation of the information our instructors deemed appropriate or necessary to clarify some of the more technical content.  It seems to be working so far, as our student reactions (in form of online submitted critiques) has been very positive.

 

Darrell


Jeanette Brooks

3,630 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:38 AM  

Great discussion, Rachel!

 

When I am writing a script for a course that will include annotations or sync'd animations, I like to include a small symbol (such as # or *) in the text, to indicate when to press the Sync button or the Annotate button. Then, once all the sync'ing and annotating is completely done, I use PowerPoint's search tool to search on each occurrence and remove the symbols... that way, they don't show up in the course notes, if I've made notes viewable on the player.


User Rank Natalia Mueller

709 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 9:49 AM  

Since we're at the script level, I'm assuming we have already identified our objectives. 

I begin with those objectives and then form an outline around them (supporting topics)

Most of my courses are technical, so I include all of the basic steps involved.

Next I identify the areas I want to support with interactions/knowledge checks/etc.

Once I have the framework laid out, I begin converting it to a script by connecting all of those elements just as I would in a conversation or if I was training one-on-one. I definitely keep it as informal as possible. Software can be challenging enough to learn without sounding like a technical manual.

 

I used to skip the outline phase and go straight from the objectives to the script writing. This may work for some people but an outline really helps me keep the course focused and balanced with a nice flow. It also helps me weed out all of that "nice to know" information that can clog up a course and overwhelm learners. If it doesn't directly support an objective, it doesn't go in. Or it gets added as an attachment or other supporting document. 


Ben D

319 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 11:16 AM  

Assuming all the content objectives, etc have been refined...

 

We have revised our processes several times.  Currently what works best for us is this:   I have the content expert develop a rich outline of what they want to cover in a learning module.   I use to have them actually write a bunch of script when they did the outline.  But, I found that too often it was a long, wordy document.  So, instead I have them just do expanded outlines with some notes and thoughts about what needs to be covered.  

 

Once we have that complete, we have a production meeting where we actually convert this outline into a "broadcast" script, complete with transitional statements, visual cues for the narrator, and other things which make it sound like it's conversational.  Most of the content experts I work with are good teachers, but they write different than they would present it if they were standing in front of a group of people.  I ask them to actually close their eyes and visualize they are saying this to a group of people.  "How would they say this to someone?"

 

This has transformed our product.  It's now much more conversational.  The narrator sounds more natural and the end result is so much better.    Also, in that production meeting I often have the narrator there too.  They are usually good writers and can really help convey the ideas.


Rachel Leigh

154 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 11:49 AM  

Jeanette Brooks said:

Great discussion, Rachel!

 

When I am writing a script for a course that will include annotations or sync'd animations, I like to include a small symbol (such as # or *) in the text, to indicate when to press the Sync button or the Annotate button. Then, once all the sync'ing and annotating is completely done, I use PowerPoint's search tool to search on each occurrence and remove the symbols... that way, they don't show up in the course notes, if I've made notes viewable on the player.



I adopted this practice from you after I watched your tutorial on it. : )  It works great!


Rachel Leigh

154 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 12:00 PM  

 

Ben Delaney said:

The narrator sounds more natural and the end result is so much better.    Also, in that production meeting I often have the narrator there too.  They are usually good writers and can really help convey the ideas.


We have on contract a person who does our narration for the modules I develop and I got some feedback on sentences being too long.  I got the script from another person so it's up to me to clean up the script for both the narrator and the learner.  One suggestion our narrator gave me today was to only have 1 idea per sentence.  That is, one subject, verb, and object per sentence.  Seems basic enough, but always good to be reminded of these things. 

 


Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 1:28 PM  

Two additional suggestions...

 

1. You have to visualize what's going to be on the screen when you write the script.  Boring narration tends to say too much about what's obvious on the screen.  For example, in a screen recording, you don't have to say "and then click OK" or overly explain something that is visually obvious.

 

Remember... the length of a video with audio is determined by the length of the narration.  You can only speak so many words so fast.  You need to think about not having to "say" everything with narration.... your visuals can communicate more than your narration.  For example, the narration could start out as "we help hospitals connect to many external organizations such as physicians offices, reference labs, radiology labs, and clinics".  That's a lot of words and takes about 10-12 sec to say.  Now you could change the audio to "we help hospitals connect to many external organizations" -- and on the screen show all the different locations in the visual.  Communicates the point in half the time.

 

2. Always read your script out loud when you review it.  People tend to write scripts like they do print.... like a white paper or online help system.  Both make very boring videos.  You should definitely listen to it out loud before paying someone to record it.


Rachel Leigh

154 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 1:59 PM  

Heather,

 

Your first point is exactly what I needed to hear/read.  I am currently converting/transforming (I know these two ideas aren't the same) a PowerPoint with content and script in it already to a self-paced training module and some of the script reads exactly what's on the slides, on some of them is a lot of text.  I know the script is not to match the text verbatim on the slides as that's a bad eLearning practice.  Before I read your post I was thinking "take some of the text of the slide" but now your post has got me thinking to shortening the narration instead on some of the slides. 

 

Rachel


Posted Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 3:01 PM  

I'm glad my suggestion got you thinking about how it might apply to your project. You don't want the learner's attention split between trying to read bullets and listen to narration.  If you're going to have the text on the slide include all the info you want them to know, then I wouldn't have narration at all.  People read much faster than the narration can talk -- so just let them read the slides at their own pace.

 

Hopefully you'll find a way to visually represent some of the bullets and remove a lot of the slide text all together.  If it's necessary, then it's helpful to have a couple minutes of narration to "set up" the lesson, and then let the learner explore the material at their own pace (read the text), and then follow-up with an interaction or questions to reinforce the main points.  The trick is to make sure the content is about "applying" the knowledge... what are they supposed to do with the information, and make them do it in the course.

 

My first suggestion to anyone taking an existing PPT with bullets and slide notes and "converting" it to an eLearning course is -- "step away from the slides".  Don't get bogged down in the slides that already exist.  Step away and really figure out what the learner needs to know and design the best solution.  Then, use the slides as a content resource, not a starting place for the final course.


Greg Friese

78 posts

Posted Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 5:14 AM  

Lots of good ideas so far.

 

  • I also use the * to mark where animations will be added
  • Our courses have lots of medical terminology so I often put a link to an online medical dictionary for the pronounciation guide and have recently started adding links to YouTube videos where the term or disease is used correctly
  • Acronyms said as a word, such as SCUBA or FEMA, are typed as a whole word. Spelled out acronyms, such as ALS or EMT, are written with dashes between the letters, E-M-T, A-L-S
  • Production notes about animations, pronunciations, images, videos, engage interactions are written inside [brackets] so the audio talent will know not to read.
  • I put a hard return between every sentence of audio. Spacing makes it easier to read
  • I like one thought or concept per slide, thus a 30 minute course might have 60 to 80 slides

 


Rachel Leigh

154 posts

Posted Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 7:30 AM  

 

Instructional Designer said:

Check out this article: The Art of Writing Great Voice Over Scripts and this one: Preparing Your Script.



These articles by Connie Malamed are very helpful.  This tip of hers copied below coupled with Greg Friese's idea of one thought/concept per slide is especially helpful as at the end of yesterday I was wondering if there was some guideline of the maximum amount of audio (in time) should be on a slide when narration is used:


Calculate the Length of Segments:

You don't want things to run on and on.  A rule of thumb for calculating time is that in one minute, a narrator will read approximately 100 words.  If you want your segment to last a minute, pare it down to 100 words or less.


Mel Barratt

13 posts

Posted Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:18 PM  

Suggested Answer

I find that a spreadsheet format works best for me.

Column 1 =  slide number

Column 2 = Slide title

Column 3 = slide type (slid / interaction type)

Column 4 = sound file name (For a simple slide it's simply "Slide  XX". For an interaction it's the slide number + Tab number "Slide XX_Y"

Column 5 = speaker's notes from Powerpoint (Formal style)

Column 6 = Narration script (Conversational style)

 

With this format it's easy to use the same document as a review / feedback document during testing, by simply adding another column for the reviewer's comments.

The same document can also be used to aid translation process if required, by simply adding new columns for translated speaker notes and translated narration script.

 


Posted Monday, January 23, 2012 at 10:34 AM  

Jeanette Brooks said:

Great discussion, Rachel!

 

When I am writing a script for a course that will include annotations or sync'd animations, I like to include a small symbol (such as # or *) in the text, to indicate when to press the Sync button or the Annotate button. Then, once all the sync'ing and annotating is completely done, I use PowerPoint's search tool to search on each occurrence and remove the symbols... that way, they don't show up in the course notes, if I've made notes viewable on the player.



That is a great idea!


Posted Monday, January 23, 2012 at 10:59 AM  

I'm a "one-woman band," which means I'll read my own script after I write it. This makes it a little easier because I can write how I speak and it will sound natural. However, I always make myself wait until all my slides are done before I start writing (rather than writing the script for each slide after it's designed before designing the next one) so that I know where everything is, where the narration is heading, etc. That said, I've also been known to rewrite something as I'm recording it because it doesn't sound the same out loud. That's a nice luxury to have as both the writer and the narrator!

 

Along the lines of Jeanette's suggestion, I also type in all caps AUTO ADVANCE or CLICK TO CONTINUE at the bottom of each slide's corresponding narration in slide notes. This serves two purposes: it's easy to adjust the settings that way and I can ad-lib the "click next..." dialog to sound more natural.

 

Also, I didn't notice this above - probably because I think it's kind of a given -  but I always put my script in the slide notes so that it shows up as the caption.


Posted Monday, January 23, 2012 at 8:58 PM  

Here are our team's best practices:

  • Keep sentences short and simple -- it's much hard to voiceover and much harder to understand a long sentence when it's read to you.  Our instructional designers generally record the beta draft version of their courses -- which means they catch all those sentences that are just too darn long to read well before the final version of the course. 
  • No "slash-words" -- you know, no words/phrases separated by a slash to imply/mean that there are a couple/small number of ways to interpret/use a particular word.  That's just fine for casual writing, but it's unclear how to say it out loud.  Should it be an "and" or an "or"? 
  • Save the bulleted list for on-screen or off-screen (print) ... but people don't actually speak in bulleted lists.
  • Leave surprising words out of the picture -- infrequently used words tend to get ignored or trip up the learner and distract their attention, neither of which is particularly desirable.
  • Italicize the words to emphasize and leave pronunciation guides where needed.  This helps our hired VO artists know how we want the sentence read and each word pronounced -- they sure do appreciate it!
  • Like others, we use a symbol to denote the animation.  We use a >> because it's a character sequence that wouldn't be used in any other context.

Dave Neuweiler

265 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 2:34 AM  

Lots of good thoughts in this thread.

 

One thing I'd add is to write scripts that help prolong the narration's shelf-life. Examples:

 

  • Avoid people's names in narration (as in, "contact Mary Smith to get a copy of the policy"). What happens if Mary wins the lottery and retires? Better is to say, "Here's the contact information to get a copy of the policy," while showing that information on-screen. It's a lot easier to change screen text than it is voiceover.
  • Product pricing. Again, easy enough to change in screen text.
  • A final example relates to both learner location and time. A cliented wanted to explain how increased fuel prices lead to price increases to their customers. The line said something like,"Ten years ago the price of gas was $1.46. Today it's $3.79!" Re-writing this to say,"... it's 2 or 3 times as high!" still makes the point and allows for price differences betwwen locations and the constantly changing price.

Several folks mentioned "tagging" their scripts for syncing animations. I do this too, but go the extra step to save that marked-up copy as a Word file. It doesn't happen often, but it really saves time if you ever have to re-sync a few screens or a whole module.


Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 8:41 AM  

I like Mel's idea of a spreadsheet to keep track of what is going on or needed for each page. I normally write them in my notes section, but then have to go back and clean up once the course is finished. I will be using this suggestion for the project I am working on now. Thank you.


Rich Johnstun

134 posts

Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 1:07 PM  

Here is a script template that I originally put together for doing video shoots, but I use it for any visual project including elearning and Articulate modules. It's simple, but it really helps the thought process in terms of audio vs. visuals. The script gets generated in the template and will eventually end up in the notes section of the PPT.

 

Something I try to do in every learning module is to state the objectives for the learner at the beginning of the module. Letting the learner know the objectives of the learning they are engaged in helps set an expectation on both sides. 

 

Never say with words what can be said with pictures. Most people absorb information much quicker visually, and retention is better. I can describe what a room looks like or I can show you a picture of what it looks like. What is more effective and efficient?

 

As with any presentation, if there is text on the screen, don't read it for the viewer. They will read and process that text much quicker visually than it can be spoken verbally. 


ScriptTemplate.doc
Lauren Milstid

47 posts

Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 11:39 AM  

Based on Brooke's comment, I found the responses to this particular thread very helpful, regarding transition statements: http://community.articulate.com/forums/p/5597/30662.aspx#30662

 

Also, a big help for me while writing is to edit my script in phases, focusing on something new each time. So, gutting content during the first round, rearranging content or rewording during the second and third rounds.


Dave Neuweiler

265 posts

Posted Friday, January 27, 2012 at 12:51 PM  

Aha! It being Friday afternoon, I'll toss a fun one in the kitty.

 

Just tell your writers to "avoid periphrasis."

 

"Periphrasis," you ask? Sounds like a pretty serious disease!

 

Noun -- use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form of expression. (Or as Strunk & White would say, "omit needless words.")

 

Example: The college English teacher warned her students against padding their essays with periphrases solely to reach the required word count.

 

Happy Friday, everyone!


A @work

129 posts

Posted Monday, January 30, 2012 at 6:39 AM  

I always have to be very careful that my global courses don't sound like they come from Boston (or worse, southern Gardner-hey). So when writing my script, I try to avoid phrases that emphasis my accent (park the car (pahhk tha cahhh) vs stop the vehicle). That's not always possible, or the most natural wording, so I'll go through and mark up the script to highlight words I know I have problems with, like "to" (ta) and "for" (fah).


Jeanette Brooks

3,630 posts

Posted Monday, January 30, 2012 at 6:54 AM  

Ha, that is a great point, A! I know of a course developer here in Michigan who was doing a recycling course, and he mentioned something about recycling "pop cans" (as in, the containers used for soda). The course ended up being used in other regions of the U.S., where "pop" isn't a common term, and even though the learners figured out what the narrator meant, it was kind of a distraction. People ended up focusing more on that than they did on the content!


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