Writing for Speaking

I just did some audio editing on a project (can't say what, sadly) and I noticed some very AWKWARD phrases the voice talent had to spit out, and I realized that the reason they sounded awkward had a lot to do with not only the terminology (again, I can't emphasize enough the importance of pronunciation guides, even if the words themselves are common, they way they fit together within the context of certain industry jargon can be crucial to credibility) but the sentences surrounding the terminology.

Ostensibly, those taking the course were supposed to be learning from the ground up with this stuff, which means that even as an audio editor or Voice Actor, one should get some take-aways from the material as well.  Honestly, due to the run-on sentence nature of the spoken words...I had no idea WHAT was going on.

When writing material that will be narrated, do you find it hard to condense certain kinds of material?   Or do you writers/instructors count on a certain degree of knowledge from those who the training is being targeted to?

37 Replies
Daniel Brigham

As IDs, the power to write invigorating scripts is in our hands. I think at least 70% of clients would go along with something different and exciting if we held that script up to a "normal script."

We need to educate our clients about good writing. I know, I know, yet another thing we have to do: construct storyboards, questions, scenarios, record and edit narration, write invigorating scripts. Sometimes, I think IDs are tasked with too much.

Good script writing reminds me of a quote from one of Robin Williams' design books. She says that a company needs the occasionally risky, daring design to prove it belongs in the 21st century. Applies to scripts writing, too. As a writer and ID, I'm through with standard, boring scripts, not that I haven't written some snoozers. I have.

It's on me to educate my clients. If they don't buy it, well, I've done my job. And as a freelancer, I can choose the clients I work with. Well, sort of.  

T. Travis

Every once-in-a-while, I get to talk to scriptwriters. The ones that write the best scripts always tell me that they write out-loud. - In other words, they say the sentence to themselves before inputing it into the computer. Many scripts I get have sentences that are half-a-page long.  I can tell the writers of these scripts didn't write out-loud, because they would notice that they ran out of breath long before the sentence ended.

Many scripts I get to narrate these days need to "go through legal" as the last step before they get to me.  These are the absolute worst scripts.  A great deal of the time the script doesn't make any sense after the legal team gets through with it.

Even on a highly technical script, if the writer understands that audio communication is first emotional, then logical, and knows how to integrate emotion and logic in the text, we end up with a much better script.  While "conversational language" is good, so is proper grammar.  

Belen Casado

This is very interesting for me. I've read all your posts and would like to share how things are done in Spain -quite differently.

Script writers (same as ID here; in fact, I've been asked many times "What the hell an ID is") they write what the client wants.

Professional people put voices to those scripts without knowing how the course is. They receive an email with a text file, then put voices, then send audios back. In the scripts they can find some indications like: "read this quickly, with a motivating voice" or "this should sound warm, close". Together with that, they receive instructions on how to read acronyms and similar -which, as said, is key in financial courses.

Then, clients see it all put together by graphic designers, who sync voices with characters, animations, etc.

In Spain, we're really used to hear professional voices as most movies have Spanish voices over them. So voices must be highly professional, as Andy's or Bruce Graham's. For example, I cannot put my voice in my courses. My voice is not loud enough.

I hope that this quirky way of doing things give you some clue.

Belen

Andy Bowyer

Belen--

I don't think the way you describe things is "quirky" at all.  In my experience, having the voice work laid down first is always a strong choice in the flow of things.  This way you don't have to worry about retro-fitting things to a specific length of time, rather you can build it to fit in the first place.  This is especially important when it comes to animation.  Of course, I realize it's not always possible to do it that way, but it's helpful to everyone when it works out.

Great insights.  Thanks!

Daniel Brigham

T: You make a very important point about sentence length. Generally, sentences should be on the shorter side, of course there are exceptions. Just listen to the length of sentences people use when they talk.

T. Travis said:

Every once-in-a-while, I get to talk to scriptwriters. The ones that write the best scripts always tell me that they write out-loud. - In other words, they say the sentence to themselves before inputing it into the computer. Many scripts I get have sentences that are half-a-page long.  I can tell the writers of these scripts didn't write out-loud, because they would notice that they ran out of breath long before the sentence ended.

Many scripts I get to narrate these days need to "go through legal" as the last step before they get to me.  These are the absolute worst scripts.  A great deal of the time the script doesn't make any sense after the legal team gets through with it.

Even on a highly technical script, if the writer understands that audio communication is first emotional, then logical, and knows how to integrate emotion and logic in the text, we end up with a much better script.  While "conversational language" is good, so is proper grammar.  

Eric Nalian

@ T. Travis - I totally agree with writing out loud.  I write all my own scripts, and it is so much easier to narrate because I am narrating my own words, at the correct level for my learners.

When I work with SME's on preparing materials, they write out the slide notes/scripts as if it were a presentation.  Writing for presentations and writing for e-learning are completely different styles.  As I work with more and more SME's, I am having them 'teach' me their topic by writing the scripts as if they were narrating the process as opposed to presenting it.  So far this is working well.

Jam Harl

Belen Casado said:

This is very interesting for me. I've read all your posts and would like to share how things are done in Spain -quite differently.

Script writers (same as ID here; in fact, I've been asked many times "What the hell an ID is") they write what the client wants.

Professional people put voices to those scripts without knowing how the course is. They receive an email with a text file, then put voices, then send audios back. In the scripts they can find some indications like: "read this quickly, with a motivating voice" or "this should sound warm, close". Together with that, they receive instructions on how to read acronyms and similar -which, as said, is key in financial courses.

Then, clients see it all put together by graphic designers, who sync voices with characters, animations, etc.

In Spain, we're really used to hear professional voices as most movies have Spanish voices over them. So voices must be highly professional, as Andy's or Bruce Graham's. For example, I cannot put my voice in my courses. My voice is not loud enough.

I hope that this quirky way of doing things give you some clue.

Belen


I think it's the great way to put life to the script. I'd say, it will make sure that the is delivery of the words' emotion is correct!

Daniel Brigham

Zara:

I've been thinking about your question over the last few days. I write my own scripts and the best piece of advice I've heard on writing was from Stephen King. He says, if you want to write well, "read a lot, and write a lot." Pretty simple. Classes can help, but I'm not sure they are necessary.

I've stated some basic guidelines for writing e-learning scripts above, but here are a few more ideas:

1. Writing dialogue for your scenarios: write like people actually talk, even if it's not grammatically correct and it most likely won't be.

2. Be honest in your scenarios: work life is messy/complex, and so should your scenarios, to a certain degree.

3. Listen to the sounds your prose creates--many e-learning scripts contain awkward repetition of sounds.

4. Use real live verbs in your prose. Instead of "Thomas is demonstrating X." Say, "Thomas demonstrates X." In every sentence you feel unsure about, ask yourself "Where is the action here?" Who is doing what? Then put that action in a strong verb.

A great book on tightening up your prose in Richard Lanham's Revising Prose. Hope that helps.

Andrew Sellon

I've enjoyed reading this discussion.  In addition to being an eLearning consultant, I'm also a professional actor and voiceover artist, so this topic is very dear to my heart.  I agree with much of what's been said by others on this thread.  I've taught and presented at a number of eLearning Guild conferences and forums about the importance of writing scripts that are meant to be spoken, and then matching them with the most suitable voice (whether professional or amateur). 

In 2011, I taught a full-day certificate program at the Guild's Learning Solutions conference specifically targeted at Subject Matter Experts.  It went over so well I was asked back, and now one of those students has hired me to teach the session at her company for some of their SME developers, so some folks out there are "getting it."  I think the reason the session works so well is that over the course of the day, I break the process down into very manageable chunks, and while most of the day is devoted to creating the voiceovers, I  start with how to optimize your script so that it will sound like someone talking, and be written for that specific target audience.   By the end of the day, my students are able to demonstrate to each other just how far they've come in 7 hours of working.  We can all make a huge difference in the quality of eLearning just by speaking up (as it were) and writing (or revising or lobbying for) scripts that are written to be read aloud.    I could easily teach just the script segment in an hour-long webinar if people would be interested sometime; maybe Articulate would want to host!    One thing I tell my students: remember your ABCs.  Keep your script:

Active

Brief

Clear

Direct

Engaging

Fun

I also gave the opening keynote talk at the Guild's Fall 2011 Online Forum, about the importance of the Human Factor (via the human voice, as opposed to synthetic) in eLearning.  They made the session available for free for quite some time; if you're a Guild Plus or higher member, you can still find the session in the recorded webinar archive on their site.  People contributed a lot of good discussion in the chat for that session.

And when it comes to pronunciation, here's another fun site to know about: http://www.howjsay.com/

Andy Bowyer

Believe it or not, something I think has vastly improved my own ability to effectively communicate in the "written" form, is years and years of forum posting.  No, really:  I'm not kidding.

If you think in terms of "audience," and if you think in terms of "tone", what better place to try to hone both of those things than inside of an actual written "conversation" that's taking place among several individuals all at once?

It's a way to develop problem solving skills, effective communication skills, persuasive language skills...all through a real-world format and a real-world interaction.

Of course, in my case, it's also made me quite verbose--but that's one of those things I'm having to "unlearn" (CROSS-THREAD REFERENCE WARNING!)