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Use Power Words to Grab Your Learner's Attention

Why do you think film makers employ scriptwriters to write dialogs? Why can't anybody write an ad copy? Why do writers spend hours polishing the language of their texts? Why do our political leaders and heads of nations depend on speechwriters to write what they want to say to their followers? That's because words matter!

Words are powerful tools that can stir emotions and rouse crowds to action. A cheery "hello" breaks the ice. A heartfelt "how are you" is the start of many lasting relationships. A sincere "sorry" mends broken hearts. And think of all the great political speeches delivered throughout the centuries. Those words have led entire nations to war and ushered in social revolutions. Words are so powerful that they can change the way the brain perceives to make us act and feel.

You need powerful words to make the world-weary, set-in-his-beliefs, and habit-led adult corporate learner see relevance in your content, be convinced, and actually learn. And to achieve this, you have to do more than just dump the facts on them; you have to trigger their emotions. 


We've compiled a list of power words to use (and some weak words to cut) in your eLearning course writing to avoid losing your learner's attention:

#1: Use emotional words

You would be surprised to know how certain words (automatically) hit us like a ton of bricks and force the brain to sit up and pay attention. You will want to sprinkle these words throughout your course:

"You": We human beings are vain. Neuroscientists have discovered that our brains register a flurry of activity (read: get roused) when we hear our own names. That's our sense of identity being tickled. The word "you" elicits a similar response from the brain. Besides, when you address the learner with a "you," the content suddenly gets a personal touch. The learner feels he is being seen and treated like a unique individual, not a nameless, faceless entity. He feels touched and special, and this is how you can build rapport with the learner.

"Relevant": Your application- and result-oriented audience has taken time off from their busy schedule to take your course. They expect it to deliver meaningful content that he can take back to their workplace. The word "relevant" gives him the confidence that you are about to provide substance.

"Imagine": This word is a powerful weapon in your arsenal to engage the learner. When you ask the learner to "imagine," you rouse him from passivity, tickle his subconscious mind, and make him take the journey with you. With this one word, you can enter the learner's mind and trigger his subconscious mind into "seeing" a vision that it thinks is reality. Yes, the sub-conscious mind cannot differentiate between imagination and reality. So, paint a glorious picture of how your course will help him achieve his professional aspirations, and the learner will be interested to know more.

#2: Pepper with powerful action verbs

Action verbs breathe life into a sentence. They can metamorphose a dull, yawn-inducing, insipid piece of content into text that crackles with energy and verve. It just takes one action verb—the right one, mind you—to bring alive a scene with all its scents, colors, sounds, and underlying emotions.

Read this sentence: The train came into the platform at great speed and finally came to a stop. Yes, and so what?

Now read this sentence: The train thundered into the platform and screeched to a halt. A noisy platform scene just springs up in front of your eyes. Why, you can even hear the train!

Verbs not only convey a sense of action. They can also be used to express sentiments (I felt disgusted. He lusted after her.), indicate cognition (I realized the truth then and there. Do you know him?), assert ownership (I own that house. She has a dog.), and associate or refute ideas (This proves the theory. From these facts, I can hypothesize that two and two make four.)

Here're some examples of powerful action verbs: 

  • Accelerate 
  • Activate
  • Build
  • Connect
  • Encourage
  • Reveal
  • Prove
  • Maximized

Want more examples? Here's a downloadable list of 126 action verbs

#3: Stir the senses with sensory adjectives

Details and evocative descriptions bring alive your content and etch it in the learner's mind. Like action verbs, adjectives can also describe the details of a scene to create pictures with words.

For instance, when you describe a fragrance as woody, your audience can almost smell it. When you say rolling greens, they can immediately envision a gently undulating landscape. A gangly 12-year-old is lean and tall, and you know that without expending as many words.

Important note: Avoid meaningless and wishy-washy adjectives. Going overboard with adjectives causes your text to be verbose and awkward.

Here're some examples of sensory adjectives:

  • WORDS DESCRIBING TOUCH: Bumpy, crisp, dry,dull, furry, moist, sharp
  • WORDS DESCRIBING TASTE: Buttery, fruity, hot , mellow, salty,refreshing, spicy, toasty
  • WORDS DESCRIBING SMELL: Perfumed, rotten, savory, stagnant, earthy, sulfurous 
  • WORDS DESCRIBING SOUND: Clapping, cracking, exploding, hush, jangle, growling, rumbling , screech,slamming 

#4: Ask!

Journalists do this all the time. That is why they can convey the most critical pieces of information about a situation within a short and crisp write-up. They follow the 5Ws and 1Hwho, what, where, when, why, and how—principle to extract information and present it in their pieces. Thought-provoking and well-designed questions compel learners to put on their thinking caps and engage with the content. Questions also help learners focus on the content and try and figure out the context and relevance of your course. Increased engagement and focus transform learning into

Finally, avoid these "weak" words:

Use words that convey the exact details about an object or a person. Do not use ambiguous, weak words that provide no extra information but lengthen the prose unnecessarily. Remember your time-crunched learners have no time for fluff. So avoid the following weak words:

"Easy": Every learner is a different person, and each one has a separate learning curve. You may classify your content as "easy," but beware, some learners may find it difficult to wrap their wits around the content. Some may even feel frustrated and dejected at not being able to master something that was supposed to be "easy."

"Obviously": If it is "obvious," why do you have to spell it? Besides, what is obvious to you may not be apparent to the learner. Remember, you spoke to SMEs and pored over books before you wrote the storyboard, so you are familiar with jargons and concepts that the learner might be clueless about.

"Things or Stuff (as a noun)": In an attempt to be informal and conversational, instructional writers often use "things" or "stuff" within the content. But these words do not convey a specific meaning and leave the learner wondering what to make out from them.:

The instructional designer has a challenging job. He has to not only deliver meaning but also pen engaging content that keeps the learner hooked to the course. Fortunately, he has his large vocabulary to tap into and come up with just the right words that trigger emotions

writing strategies 1


Karla Gutierrez
Karla Gutierrez
Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT. ES:Karla is an Inbound Marketer @Aura Interactiva, the developers of SHIFT.

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