by Jennie Ruby
What role, if any, should humor play in technical and training materials?When writing training materials, I am always looking for new ways to introduce a lesson and keep the tone engaging. The introduction to a lesson needs to draw in the learners and get them motivated to continue the training, and the writing throughout the lesson has to keep their attention. Can the use of humor help?
To find an answer, I skimmed some of the writing in my shelf-full of training books. I found many examples of engaging and personable writing styles, but very few examples of out and out humor.
Even in the For Dummies series and its competitor The Complete Idiot's Guide to... group, both known for their clear and readable text, humor was rarely on display. I did find some exceptions. Several of the Dummies books have a cartoon at the beginning of each chapter. Laurie E. Rozakis' The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style begins with a quote from comedian Jerry Seinfeld. And I developed a smile, if not a chuckle, from this bit from Susannah Gardner and Shane Birley's Blogging for Dummies:
"No matter what your teenager tells you, there is absolutely no requirement that you must write your blog while wearing your pajamas. Also, you are allowed to use a spellchecker."
And I was pleased by their alliterative subheading "Tiptoeing Through Templates."
But in books like DHTML and CSS for the World Wide Web, Excel Data Analysis, Illustrator, and even The Rough Guide to MySpace & Online Communities, humor and joking did not find a place.
I conclude from this that joking around pretty much does not have a place in training materials. The reason would be twofold:
- You need to maintain a credible and authoritative tone.
- Humorous stories and jokes may be a distraction rather than an enhancement in learning materials.
Does this mean your training materials must be utterly dry, factual, and boring? Absolutely not. But telling jokes? Not so much.
Do you agree? Or strongly disagree? We would love to hear from you about experiences you have had with using humor in training materials. Please send us your comments.