This is how you reach consistency in your online academy

Renate de Jonge

It often happens that you work on the content of your online academy with multiple authors. Users expect one recognisable text style, a clear layout of the pages, recognisable words and reoccurring links and buttons. How do you achieve this, with multiple authors? We list the various possibilities to ensure consistency down below! 

The shortest road is to send all online trainings to a final editor. They’ll then check the grammar, the uniformity of the writing style and design and if this fits the corporate image. This isn’t always feasible considering occupation and time. 

A more realistic alternative is a guidebook or a style guide. Here, the requirements of the content of a training are listed. Developing an online training isn’t a one-size-fits-all. A personal style is extremely important, so the users feel addressed and involved. Although, trainers need to have the possibility to personalise their learning content, this must be within agreed frameworks. Like a certain crash barrier that ensures consistency in the instructions, but doesn’t impair the personal touch. 

Provide trainers and authors with a blueprint  

The more you write, the more consistent you become doing so. By remaining conscious of what you write and by checking the content continuously on completeness and brevity, you’ll grow in this. In order to let this run smoothly you set frameworks and terms. How do you formulate terms for the content of an online training? And how do you set frameworks for a uniform trainings content? Down below, we discuss a few cases that contribute to consistency. You can record these in a guidebook or ensure at least that you’re constantly conscious of them while writing the course material. 

Consistent writing style

Writing styles vary, you’ve got business and formal styles but also amical colloquial language. Whichever tone you use ensure it is and will remain consistent during the training. Determine the maximum of words per sentence, maximum length of paragraphs and the use of sub headers. By doing so you create uniformity. 

Consistent instructions

It’s important that the instruction in the online training on how the users should use the learning material is communicated consistently and is recorded. How does a user navigate, how do they turn in assignments and how do they receive feedback of a trainer? By giving consistent instructions and tips during the training your users know what to expect. You can give a few examples in a guidebook, or some fixed formats for navigation instructions. An example: below every page there will be a button with the fixed text ‘Click here to return to the overview’. 

Uniform layout

Your guidebook ideally also contains all frameworks for the layout of an online training. Logos, fonts, when to use which font, colours and images. In your guidebook you can record which colour button you use for which interaction. For example, blue will always continue to an assignment and green to a case from practice. The more clarity you create, the easier you make it for your users. 

Write like this, not like that

It’s convenient to set guidelines in a guidebook about the used tone. The clearer, the better. A writing style isn’t precise science, so it helps to give examples. Indicate that the tone is ‘friendly and informal, but not amical’. Or ‘informing but not pedantic’. Preferably with a few example texts. Finally, you can make a checklist with some do’s and don’ts regarding the preferred writing style. How do you write abbreviations? How do you cite sources? Add a list with which words to use in certain contexts, and more things like that. 

Such a guidebook isn’t only convenient when you work with multiple authors, but also when you as an author create the content of the whole online training, it’s nice to have a factsheet on which you can rely. 

In all cases a second reader is recommended, preferably a colleague who’s familiar with the framework of the guidebook. This way, you help each other achieving optimal uniformity of the content in the online academy. And this helps the users to process and remember the learning content optimally. So, a win-win! 

The shortest road is to send all online trainings to a final editor. They’ll then check the grammar, the uniformity of the writing style and design and if this fits the corporate image. This isn’t always feasible considering occupation and time. 

A more realistic alternative is a guidebook or a style guide. Here, the requirements of the content of a training are listed. Developing an online training isn’t a one-size-fits-all. A personal style is extremely important, so the users feel addressed and involved. Although, trainers need to have the possibility to personalise their learning content, this must be within agreed frameworks. Like a certain crash barrier that ensures consistency in the instructions, but doesn’t impair the personal touch. 

Provide trainers and authors with a blueprint  

The more you write, the more consistent you become doing so. By remaining conscious of what you write and by checking the content continuously on completeness and brevity, you’ll grow in this. In order to let this run smoothly you set frameworks and terms. How do you formulate terms for the content of an online training? And how do you set frameworks for a uniform trainings content? Down below, we discuss a few cases that contribute to consistency. You can record these in a guidebook or ensure at least that you’re constantly conscious of them while writing the course material. 

Consistent writing style

Writing styles vary, you’ve got business and formal styles but also amical colloquial language. Whichever tone you use ensure it is and will remain consistent during the training. Determine the maximum of words per sentence, maximum length of paragraphs and the use of sub headers. By doing so you create uniformity. 

Consistent instructions

It’s important that the instruction in the online training on how the users should use the learning material is communicated consistently and is recorded. How does a user navigate, how do they turn in assignments and how do they receive feedback of a trainer? By giving consistent instructions and tips during the training your users know what to expect. You can give a few examples in a guidebook, or some fixed formats for navigation instructions. An example: below every page there will be a button with the fixed text ‘Click here to return to the overview’. 

Uniform layout

Your guidebook ideally also contains all frameworks for the layout of an online training. Logos, fonts, when to use which font, colours and images. In your guidebook you can record which colour button you use for which interaction. For example, blue will always continue to an assignment and green to a case from practice. The more clarity you create, the easier you make it for your users. 

Write like this, not like that

It’s convenient to set guidelines in a guidebook about the used tone. The clearer, the better. A writing style isn’t precise science, so it helps to give examples. Indicate that the tone is ‘friendly and informal, but not amical’. Or ‘informing but not pedantic’. Preferably with a few example texts. Finally, you can make a checklist with some do’s and don’ts regarding the preferred writing style. How do you write abbreviations? How do you cite sources? Add a list with which words to use in certain contexts, and more things like that. 

Such a guidebook isn’t only convenient when you work with multiple authors, but also when you as an author create the content of the whole online training, it’s nice to have a factsheet on which you can rely. 

In all cases a second reader is recommended, preferably a colleague who’s familiar with the framework of the guidebook. This way, you help each other achieving optimal uniformity of the content in the online academy. And this helps the users to process and remember the learning content optimally. So, a win-win!