The art of writing a voice over script: radio, educational video, and documentary

voice over scripts

Photo by Elliot Sloman on Unsplash

We’ve all heard great voice over scripts being read—those that capture your interest from the very first moment the actor starts speaking. As with many art forms, the script is able to take you on a journey and you feel almost compelled to listen right to the end. It’s true theater of the mind.

Well, if you’re interested in creating audio or audiovisual content and would like to write scripts but aren’t entirely sure how to do so, we’d like to offer you some tips. These may help you shape your ideas into something not only compelling to listen to but also text your chosen VoiceBunny Pro will have no trouble interpreting correctly.

Different purposes call for different approaches, however—so let’s take a closer look at these differences.

1. Writing the radio voice over script

Commercial radio voice over scripts are almost always limited by time—the most common are frequently 30 seconds or less. They must capture the listener’s attention instantly. It’s equally important to remember that comprehension matters, so don’t jam-pack your script with too many words!

Keep it reasonably short. An actor will be able to sensibly articulate around 100-110 words a minute without the read starting to sound rushed–unless that’s what you want. Still, keep the number of words in mind, especially if you need your listener to remember your website, your social media handles or a telephone number.

Experience tells us that many—if not most—listeners are losing interest in those thundering, over-the-top, announcer voice overs of yesteryear. People like to be talked to, not talked atKnow your audience and write your copy the way they speak. Imagine yourself chatting with someone while you write. This will lead you to use a more conversational tone while keeping your sentences shorter and more focused.

The tone of your radio voice over script should also suit the subject matter. Create a mental picture of your customer. What’s going to grab that customer’s attention and get him or her to not only remember your message but also buy your product?

A memorable call to action at the end of your radio voice over script is practically a prerequisite—and again: give your voice actor enough time to make it count!

2. Writing an educational video voice over script

When writing for educational video, you can incorporate much of what we’ve suggested above. Time is probably much less of an issue, but keep the pacing of the read in mind: While your approach this time will be dictated by purpose and your target audience, pacing will be slower because the emphasis is on teaching.

Up to 56% of all people are visual learners.

Educational videos rely on a powerful combination of words and pictures previously unknown to learners; their success accounts for the rise of the MOOCs. But there is a complication: even presented with the richest images, people’s attention span is still getting shorter. If your students become distracted by, say, a dull voice, and have to re-watch your videos in order to fully retain the information, a combination of frustration and boredom can creep upon their learning experience and slow them down.

Because we humans love stories, storytelling is often a good way to grab and hold your audience’s attention. While in most movies scenes are likely to change every minute-and-a-half on average, with educational videos you can be faced with a situation where you may need to keep the same image onscreen for longer than a minute and a half—depending on the complexity of the idea.

Remember to keep your tone conversational throughout, keeping explanations short and to the point. There is such thing as words that are too big! Avoid academic writing that always seems to be peppered with lifeless, boring language–you can’t highlight an unknown word in an educational video to look it up later!

While it may be difficult to liven up text that is full of technical jargon, copy that is written conversationally can keep your audience attentive and engaged, and help them overcome the anxiety of approaching an unknown or especially difficult subject. Use the active rather than the passive voice... and the question-and-answer method works well, too.

Some instructional designers suggest that you shouldn’t have more than two sentences for each slide without some kind of action taking place on screen. This can be challenging but useful to keep in mind as a guideline. Much like a set of reps at the gym, your educational video voice over needs to keep your audience paced and focused throughout the eLearning session.

3. Writing a documentary voice over script

As a rule, a script for a documentary is a written description of what your audience is seeing and hearing, so it’s more reactive and less proactive than either a radio commercial or an educational voice over script. That said, choosing the right VoiceBunny Pro to record your documentary script is no less critical.

The most important element here is storytelling, so you need an actor who can provide your documentary with the vocal impact it both deserves and requires.

Retrace your steps: what does your footage look like? Many documentary producers already know how they want their material visually packaged and scripted, but if you don’t, a good way to start writing a voiceover script for your documentary is to sit and watch your video footage. Capture what you see and hear in such a way that you reflect what’s onscreen while also subtly enhancing the viewing experience.

The question-and-answer method can be a remarkably powerful structural tool here too if it suits your material. To see a great example of this type of approach in action, have a look at this Vsauce video and listen to how the material is developed in a compelling way by creator and host Michael Stevens:

4. All great scripts are sealed with a reading

No matter whether you’re writing a radio voice over script, an educational video voice over script or a documentary voice over script, once it’s done, there’s one thing you simply have to do: read it aloud. Maybe you should even try to record it yourself.

It doesn’t really matter how bad you might think the result is, what you will be doing is determining not only what your script will sound like to a listener but also how readable it is:

  • Do something like a table read. Try reading it in different ways.
  • Do it the way you think it should be read, then try the opposite way.
  • Ask yourself: Do parts of it sound slow or uninteresting? If so, read it again.
  • If a sentence seems too long, or too complex, break it up.
  • Could it use more contractions to give it that natural feel?

Scriptwriting is both an art and a craft and there’s no doubt that with practice you’ll become more adept at it. As you work with and apply these ideas and tips to your writing, your script is bound to be one that our VoiceBunny Pros will jump at the chance of interpreting and bringing to life—in exactly the way you imagined it, if not better!

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Author: Laura Varon

Content creator, marketer, translator. I studied advertising because I wanted to know a little about everything and I am a translator because I want to know a lot about a lot. I co-write with WritingBunny.