Formatting Tips for Voice Over Scripts

If we as instructional designers write scripts that are easy for voice over talent to understand, the voice over professionals we work with can record and edit those scripts faster. We’ll end up with a better end product. A few formatting guidelines can make our scripts clearer and easier to use.

This is part 2 in my series of posts on tips for creating voice over scripts.

Jill Goldman of Goldivox shared several tips with me about what she looks for in scripts from her perspective as a voice over professional.

Formatting Tips

  • Readable Font, Size, and Spacing
  • Pronunciation Guides
  • Screen Names
  • Table Format
  • Dialog Format
Microphone
Photo Credit: ErnestDuffoo via Compfight cc

Readable Font, Size, and Spacing

As is a good idea for any written communication, use a clear, readable font in decent size. Jill says 12- or 14-point fonts are usually good.

I’ve worked in organizations that had specific requirements for fonts and spacing. For example, I’ve been asked to double space scripts. If your organization has standard practices, follow those guidelines; they probably work fine and are what people are accustomed to working with.

Pronunciation Guides

What elements need pronunciation guides in a script?

  • Jargon or unfamiliar words, including complicated, technical, and medical terminology
  • Abbreviations and acronyms
  • Numbers (2010: two thousand ten or twenty ten?)

Jill explains that the best pronunciation guides:

  • Type it out phonetically, with capitals on emphasized syllable
  • If possible, provide an audio link to the pronunciation of word.

Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com include pronunciations for many words in their dictionaries. You may find other sources for pronunciations as well. Jill notes, “sometimes these are not the best pronunciations, so be sure to listen first and know it’s as you want it. If the script is in English, do you want a British English pronunciation? North American? Australian? Please try to provide a link to someone reading it in the accent you’d like to have it.”

Example Pronunciation Guides

  • Vivitrol [voice over: VIH-vih-trohl. Listen here]
  • NIAAA [voice over note: Say N-I-Triple A]

Think about the regional accent of your audience as well. Jill pointed out:

If your intended audience is North American, but the script is about Australia, you may want to consider using North American pronunciations for words like “Cairn” and other Australian places. Also, if you are using slang in the script, be sure it makes sense to the intended audience. If the audience might be world-wide, you may want to leave out any slang that may not be understood by varied listeners.

Screen Names

Jill shares that it makes her life easier when the screen names are clearly marked in the script. Voice over professionals often edit their recordings into separate files for each screen. Making the divisions between screens clear and noting the screen name or number helps them keep everything straight. If you have preferences for file naming conventions, be sure to explain your system and make it match the script.

Table Format

I don’t use a table format for my scripts, but Jill explains that it can be helpful (although she doesn’t consider it necessary). This format uses one column for screen names, one for voice over copy, and one for pronunciation help.

Screen Name Script Pronunciation
Module 4 Frame 67 The oral version is known as Revia; the sustained-release version is Vivitrol. Revia: reh-VEE-uh.
Vivitrol: VIH-vih-trohl. Listen here

Dialog Format

If you’re writing dialog for multiple characters, check what format is preferred. I tend to use the character name in bold at the beginning of each line, but I worked with one individual who preferred a TV script format with the character name centered in all caps above each block of dialog. I include notes about other sounds, actions, or tone of voice inside brackets and italicized, but as long as they are clearly set apart you don’t have to follow this format exactly.

The examples below are from the video script for my Story-Based Coaching and Mentoring course. The tips for writing voice over scripts generally apply to video scripts as well, although there are some differences, such as describing actions.

Example Dialog Format 1 (Bold Character Names)

Michael: What’s the problem?

April: Well, when he pushes and wants the delivery date moved sooner again…

[Phone buzzing]

Michael: [cutting April off, looking at phone] Hang on…I just got a text message. Let me just reply to this real fast. [texting] OK, where were we?

Example Dialog Format 2 (Centered Character Names)

MICHAEL

What’s the problem?

APRIL

Well, when he pushes and wants the delivery date moved sooner again…

[Phone buzzing]

MICHAEL

[cutting April off, looking at phone]

Hang on…I just got a text message. Let me just reply to this real fast. [texting] OK, where were we?

Summary

The main goal for formatting your scripts is making it clear. Think about how to make your scripts more readable and understandable.

6 thoughts on “Formatting Tips for Voice Over Scripts

  1. This is invaluable information for me. In my brief career developing e-Learning I have had to create the script and record the script. For me it was OJ training. In fact I had never used Camtasia before or written and recorded a script. My manager’s management style was hands-off. Furthermore, my role / title was Technical Writer and I worked solo as the Technical Writer. I managed to learn Camtasia quickly, shedding many tears in the process. I successfully achieved my goal. However, it was not something i was proud of, but my manager was delighted that he had something to give the client. So I am delighted to acquire more knowledge on writing scripts and recording the voice for the training scenarios. Thank you.

    Eager to Learn (Leslie Nicole Harmon)

    1. Good for you for seeking to improve your skills on your own. I think a lot of people are in similar positions to yours. You didn’t set out to become an instructional designer, but you accidentally landed in it (in your case, without a lot of support). Cammy Bean wrote a book called The Accidental Instructional Designer that I think you’d find helpful and relevant.

  2. I admire people who have sufficient gumption, determination and perseverance to compose their own article. Establishing oneself as knowledgeable is an exceptional chance to experience a sense of humiliation. Being acknowledged as an authority amongst fellow subject matter experts is a science … particularly when handling complex issues such as this. To the blow owner: I value the neighborhood comment card and the shared competence.

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