Writing Training Content

As business-people or technical experts we often need to write training for how to use our product or service. Training content is a form of written, video or audio instructions can be a cost-effective and long-lasting business tool.

Observation, Customer Service & Role Playing

Before your start composing an outline of training topics, look at your ideal customers. If your product or service is new, look at related companies, competitors or industries with similar products or services.

  • Who are your most-typical users and who are your ideal users? What levels of knowledge do your users have? How young or how old are your users?
  • Is there more than one type of person using your product? Or, are there multiple uses for your product that can be grouped by industry or type?
  • How do new users describe your product or service? How is your product or service used compared to how was it designed to be used?
  • Where will the person be when they need your training steps?
  • How long will your training steps be current? Will the product or service change often?
  • Why does your customer or client need training?

Show It, Do It, Review It and Repeat It

Start developing your training from the end — and work to the beginning. Always keep in mind, ‘Why does a user need or want your training?’

Connect with the user’s need and develop the user’s personal-investment in your training. Ask him or her to describe their current job and what type of tasks they already perform. Don’t worry, rhetorical questions are useful – even when the user is opting to receive your training through self-help methods like FAQ pages or video tutorials.

Show it: Set expectations and demonstrate how your product or service looks when the work is done. Or start by showing your product or service in use.

Do it: Next, slow down and go through each step of using your product or service. Add short instructions at each step. Finish your steps with the information, picture or video you displayed when you set the user’s expectations.

Review it: Ask the user how they would fit the steps to their use. Ask the users how to perform a step or where to perform or find a function.

Repeat it: Go through the same steps again from a different angle or using a similar-but-different example. Prompt the user to figure out small steps in between the start and finish.

To-The-Point

The point of training is to get a person to use your product or service while performing a task they are familiar with and they enjoy. When possible, use real-life scenarios and try to pick examples that make people happy.   Indirectly, your training is a promotional tool that helps develop new customers, create customer loyalty and delivers customer service.

As examples, a business-math software developer can show how to calculate a pay raise rather than show how to calculate tax penalties. An electronics engineer can show how a happy customer uses a mobile device to connect with happy family members rather than using the mobile device to call customer service with a complaint. If your product is used in an emergency situation, softly promote the benefits or security of your product within the training.

If you have more than one type of common-user, you might need to write the same training multiple times with slightly different steps and scenarios. Customers will thrive on the familiarity and be more receptive to training that addresses their situations.

Just Short Enough

Most people, especially the new generations of Digital Natives, have short attention spans or are easily distracted. Modern people are often juggling multiple tasks and quickly lose focus. Break your training down into 1 to 10 minute exercises. Sequence multiple short exercises to reuse or repeat some of the previous exercise. Make sure users can jump to topics out of sequence and get a full task completed.

Here’s and example goals for training business admins to update a website.

  • Open an existing article, edit the words and make 1-2 formats
    (2 min to set expectations, gain familiarity)
  • Create a new article with only a few words
    (5 min do it together and repeat some of the formatting tools)
  • Save and close the article, find both articles
    (1 min show it and reinforce the completion of the steps)
  • Open one of the 2 articles and add a picture
    (3 min to walk through new steps together)
  • Add a document to the article
    (2 min to step through a new task and repeat the previous concept by asking questions about differences between images and documents)
Don’t be tempted to show every button in a toolbar nor every function in a menu. Avoid showing every option or button on a device at once. Instead, create an appendix with an illustration or table that calls out the various options. Link the options back to your training. Appendix should always be at the end of the training or help files. People need to know the basics of using the product or service before they know why they would need any features or choose any optional functions.

Backwards Training is Good

When creating training content, start from the end and work your way to the front. Think of your customer or customers. Think of how they will use the product and where they will use the product. Write short notes about customer scenarios and be realistic about who is using your product and how they might use it. Think about the benefits and pleasant situations where your product meets a need.

Take a break then revisit your notes. Create an outline starting with the most common function your user performs. Add to that outline variations of how your product is used.

Editing is important and takes up to three passes. Have an editor or colleague make the first review. Have a potential customer or person who has not used nor seen your product or service review your training. Revise the document based on the feedback and have your editor or colleague make one final review.