Why most writing training doesn’t work – and what does.
U.S. organizations spend a lot of money on skills training: $83 billion in 2019, according to the 2019 Training Industry Report from Training Magazine. That’s a 19% increase just since 2016! Yet these same organizations often find corporate training to be ineffective, with no lasting skills improvement.
“For the most part, the learning doesn’t lead to better organizational performance, because people soon revert to their old ways of doing things,” writes The Harvard Business Review.
A related working paper from the Harvard Business School adds, “By investing in training that is not likely to yield a good return, senior executives and their HR professionals are complicit in what we have come to call the ‘great training robbery.’”
If you’re considering writing skills training, how can you protect and ensure your return on investment?
Based on our more than 30 years of providing writing training, we’ve identified that the best and most effective writing training programs share six characteristics that foster engagement and results.
1: Immediate Benefits for Participants
Participants need to see value from training to be engaged. With writing training, the value comes from strategies that they can easily apply to create more effective emails, documents, and other written materials. While writing training might not sound thrilling, learning these strategies can be exciting and confidence-building when they help participants become better at what they do.
The ROI of Writing Training
2: Fun, Credible Instructors
With learning, fun matters. Not only does fun encourage engagement in training, but research shows that a fun classroom experience supports the retention of information, no matter the age of the student.
Credibility is also important, especially for professional audiences. Having expert instructors is important to show participants that the information, rules, and techniques they’re learning are proven, valuable, and worthwhile.
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3: Readability, Readability, Readability
Effective writing connects with readers, and connecting with readers means understanding how they read. That’s why readability studies are at the core of the best training programs. This research gives writers the means to make good choices about how to structure documents, paragraphs, and sentences. Writers learn specific strategies to gain reader buy-in and compel readers to take action.
As problem-solvers in their jobs, today’s professionals already have great apply problem-solving skills. The best writing training programs show professionals to apply their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to writing using a strategic, readability-focused approach.
4: Emphasis on Participants’ Writing Needs and Challenges
Writing isn’t one-size-fits-all, and neither is writing training. While commonalities exist across quality writing, the challenges engineers face in writing technical documents are different than those salespeople encounter when writing business proposals. Quality writing training programs recognize this and, while teaching the fundamentals, also help solve participants’ particular needs and challenges—whether participants are engineers, IT professionals, technical writers, scientists, biotech professionals, salespeople, or businesspeople.
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5. Real-Life Examples, Including from Participants Themselves
To ensure that the strategies being taught can be applied to their writing, the best writing training programs have participants apply the strategies to their own writing. That way, after the training is complete, employees don’t struggle to apply their lessons to their written work—they’ve already done it.
As one writing training participant told us, “The exercises to review and rewrite the samples from the participants’ own writing were not easy but helped practice the learning … I wouldn’t change anything [about the Hurley Write course I attended].”
6. Small Class Sizes
Writing is best taught in small groups in a workshop-style setting. Why? First, such a setup helps ensure interactivity by encouraging engagement, fun, and learning. Second, it allows ample time for participants to get feedback on their writing, so they can learn about their particular strengths and areas of improvement.
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Writing training really works when it’s done right!
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