Developing into a materials writer

Here are a few general tips for skills to develop if you’d like to write for publishers or big teaching organisations.

This is not a ‘How to become….’ post. You can find good tips about how to actually get into materials writing here and here. Also there are more general tips here.

Making the transition…

Going from teaching to materials writing is just a mindset thing really. Teaching and writing require a lot of the same skills anyway (see below). If you write your own materials for class now and then, well that makes you a materials writer.

‘Yeah, but I’m not… you know… paid to… or a professional materials wri-‘

Ah come on! Let publishers be the judge of that. What’s the worst they’ll do? Tell you that you don’t have the right experience? You might get lucky – they might ask you to write a sample of work for them… who’s gonna feel like a writer then, hey? Hey?!

Dealing with feedback

You go all out to write an awesome, engaging text only to receive tonnes of negative feedback. Sometimes feedback is constructive, sometimes it’s really blunt. You certainly need to develop a thick skin. Also, don’t assume that feedback is always scathing. Once, I received feedback on a grammar task that simply read ‘Why have you chosen this task?’ You can take that a few ways:

  • What on Earth are you doing?
  • This is the wrong task, you should choose something else
  • What is your logic here? I’m genuinely interested… If you explain it I might see the value…

Some inferences are more positive than others. Go with the positive spin – not everyone is out to put you down!

Incidentally, some of the best feedback I’ve had on materials has also led to changes to my own lesson planning/teaching practice. Just because an editor is sitting in an office all day doesn’t mean they’re not a practitioner too.

Keeping it brief…

A lot of materials writing involves writing briefs – giving guidance to others. If you have an idea in your head for how you want an activity to look you’ll need to write a ‘design brief’ – so a designer knows how to design it. If you want a particular image to accompany your activity then you’ll need to provide a brief for this too (e.g. is it an illustration, photo, what’s happening, anything to avoid in the image, etc). Sounds easy, but it depends on what you want I guess. You might have a simple image in your head that you could explain ‘briefly’…

freeimages.com

Or it might be something more complicated

modernloss.com

(I literally Googled ‘complicated image’ to find this one…)

Whatever. Sometimes life is easy – you can send an image you’ve found as an example. Other times… well, you need some pretty good explaining skills! That’s definitely worth thinking about – how clear are your explanations and could somebody else follow them?

Proofreading

Proofreading docs for materials writing goes beyond spelling and grammar checks. For example, if the template you’re using is an upload for digital materials then you might need to write exercises in a particular format. Here’s an example for a gap fill exercise…

Pete is (*rambling on/stating the obvious)

The brackets show the two possible options to choose, separated by the forward slash. The star tells you which answer is correct.

This is a straightforward example – I guess in computer terms the punctuation marks are delimiters (?!), something like that… You might find that there are rules to follow like this in the documents you’re producing, so you need a bit of attention to detail for this type of stuff.

I’ll level with you…

You might have to write your own texts and that’s tough. Still, it’s fun and you’ll be amazed at how many puns some editors will let you sneak into texts at higher levels.

It’s worth familiarising yourself with text level-checking tools if you don’t use them already. Something like Text Inspector is good. Academic word lists or other word lists that are matched to certain levels or tests are good too. If you’re writing texts for your own classes then put intuition to one side now and again and try using these tools to help you grade texts appropriately.

‘Who cares about…?’

This might sound a bit weird, but materials writing involves being interested in lots of things! Think about a coursebook and all those different topics it covers – that’s a fair amount of texts you’d need to write on range of subjects. Of course you don’t need to be an expert on a topic just to write about it, especially when you’re grading a text and leaving out a lot of the jargon. Even so, sometimes it pays to take a little bit of interest in things that you might not normally care about. You might hate football, but it features in a lot of coursebooks. You might hate that ‘baby shark‘ video, but when you need to write a text on things that have gone viral you might find it useful inspiration. One of my mates once said that he’d struggle to write materials as all he’s interested in is heavy metal and cricket. I mean, that does sound like my type of coursebook to be honest, but I see his point.

‘But this doesn’t work…’

There’s nothing wrong with having your preferred pedagogical approaches. However, if you want to keep avenues open it might be worth developing a level of impartiality. There’s no point cutting your nose to spite your face. You might not like PPP style lessons, but if that’s what a publisher wants you to write… I mean, you could always turn down the work out of principle. Up to you I guess *shakes head and wonders what you’re doing*

Over to you:

What do you think are the skills worth developing for budding materials writers?

3 comments

  1. A wonderful blog post as ever Pete. I would definitely recommend any budding writers to try to write teaching notes in a way that another teacher can understand. If you are unsure how to write teaching notes or need a bit more exposure, then check out lesson plans and other teaching notes in coursebooks.

    Like

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