3 golden rules for an understandable and business-like text

As a writer, you not only want to present your reader with an error-free text, but you also want the recipient to understand your text. With a business text you want the message to come across well and that your reader is encouraged to take action. There is a lot that goes into writing a clear text. It is more than writing short sentences full of simple words. These 3 golden rules teach you to write a clear, business-like text in direct language.

What exactly do we mean by clear language?

At word and sentence level, people often speak of ‘simple Dutch’, ‘simple language’, ‘clear language’, ‘direct language’, ‘clear language’, ‘jip-en-janneke language’ or ‘language at B1 level’. . But clear, customer-oriented communication requires more. Your business text should not be simple, but simple enough for your intended audience. In addition, the structure, layout and tone of your text must ensure that your readership does not drop out.

Your text should not be simple, but simple enough for your intended audience.

I explain in clear language how you can write a hell of a clear text. Three rules will help you with this:

  1. Map out who you are writing for.
  2. Use words and phrases that your target audience understands.
  3. Make sure that your reader does not drop out due to the structure and layout of your text.

1. Map out who you are writing for

Your degree of command of the Dutch language determines the level of your written texts. It European Framework of Reference for Languages (ERK) links language proficiency to six levels of proficiency, ranging from A1, A2 (basic user), to B1, B2 (independent user) to C1, C2 (skilled user). Suppose you, as a skilled user, want to appeal to a target group of basic users with your text, then it is important not to write at your own level.

Is your text intended for retired professors or adolescent loiterers? The style in which you write must also match your intended readership. So I write to Professor Goochem ‘first type the targeted group’ and I write to Janne van de Jongesoos ‘know who you are writing for’.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve with your text. Do your readers need to act? Do you want them to buy something from you? Do you want your readers to get an answer to a question? So think carefully about the actual core message of your text. Always ask yourself whether your target group can easily distill your message from it and whether they can easily understand your message.

Also think about the tone that suits your target group. For example, do we go ‘you-and-you-and’ or do we address the target group with ‘you’?

2. Use words and phrases that your target audience understands

With a business text, you naturally want 100% of your target group to actually understand your message. This is how you generate the most action. If you use language that is too difficult for your target group or part of it, you exclude readers. Your readers will then give up.

When writing intelligible language, people often quickly think of writing at the so-called B1 level. on Communicatierijk.nl The government writes the following about this:

Language level B1 stands for simple Dutch. The vast majority of the population understands texts at language level B1. Even people who have not had a (high) education. A text at B1 level consists of easy words that almost everyone uses. And from short, simple and active sentences.

Recently, much attention has been paid to writing in simple Dutch. This is an excellent development. However, I think this should not be an end in itself. Your target group determines at what level it wishes to be addressed. Clear writing can’t hurt, but don’t go too far and certainly don’t address your target group too infantile.

Jargon, or not?

For example, most fanatics in the ‘B1 camp’ want you to write without professional jargon (better, by the way: jargon or jargon, but this aside). I think the use of jargon is fine in some cases. For example, in a text aimed at car mechanics, the words ‘valve wedge locking’ and ‘homokinet’ may be used. I wouldn’t present words like ‘macrame patterns’ and ‘edge stitches’ to this target group again, without any explanation. Writing in clear language also includes explaining difficult words and abbreviations.

Alternate sentence length

Also make sure to keep the length of the sentences clear: most sentences should contain between 10 and 15 words. But beware: alternate short sentences with long sentences. Even if you are writing for the less skilled reader: the use of only short staccato sentences is not desirable. First of all, it is hideous and secondly, it is not pleasant to read even for the basic user.

Even if you are writing for the less skilled reader: the use of only short staccato sentences is not desirable.

Make sure that your longer sentences are clearly structured. This way you can make sure that the most important thing comes first in your sentence. You can also pay attention to avoiding the so-called ‘tang construction’: words that belong together should not be far apart. So not ‘I think I too smart for making such retarded, gross mistakes ben‘, but ‘I think I am too smart for making these kind of retarded, gross mistakes’.

Writing notebook with pencil cup of coffee and wad of paper near article about business clear texts

3. Make sure that your reader does not drop out due to the structure and layout of your text

With a business text it is important that your target group is immediately ‘caught’ by your text. Here again point 1 comes into play: what does your target group like to read? It is important here that you of course throw a spotless, correct text into the world. A text with errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation can seriously damage your image. As a text corrector, I see texts all too often, and I’m glad that they have been taken care of by an agency like ours. Having your texts checked by others is nothing to be ashamed of. You as a writer are trying to convey a message to your target group; you are good at that. The other is again adept at putting your message in a better coat.

Use subheadings

A good text is not only error-free, but also clearly shows where what can be found in the text. Make it clear quickly what it is about and what the reader should do from you. For example, with longer texts, a table of contents is an aid. With shorter texts you can think of a catchy introduction and a clear structure in paragraphs or paragraphs. Also, think carefully about catchy subheadings above the various pieces of text. Your readers should get a brief, but good summary of your text by just reading the subheadings. In my previous article you can read more tips for writing powerful headlines for your reader and Google.

Start with the core message

Make sure your core message can be found at the beginning of each paragraph. With a well-constructed text, the reader should get a good impression of the content of the entire text by just reading the beginning of all paragraphs.

Don’t forget the design

Keep the design calm, because that reads better. For example, do not sprinkle too much with different fonts, font sizes and colors. It is useful to make the title and subheadings stand out. Also make sure your text has enough white space. Think of wide margins and space between the titles and headlines. Dare to delete text: erase texts that add little or nothing. Always make sure that the text matches the existing house style of your organization, if any. And finally, make clear lists, if the text lends itself to it. An example:

A good design:

  • is quiet;
  • does not know too many different fonts, font sizes and colors;
  • has sufficient white space (margins/space between titles and headings);
  • is free of superfluous text;
  • fits in well with the existing house style;
  • has lists (if the text lends itself to this).

Also make sure that no mistakes are made in consistency. A text where ‘you’ and ‘you’ are used interchangeably is of course not possible. The time used must also be constant in your text. Also, it should not be noticeable if your text is composed by different people (with different styles).

Extra rules for online texts

When writing texts for the web, in addition to all of the above, a few extra rules apply. This is how readers scan web texts and it is even more important that the structure of the text is correct. Within 10 seconds, a reader of a web page decides whether it is interesting enough.

It is even more important that the most important message is at the top. The eyes often move across the screen in the so-called ‘f-pattern’. The reader will read the important headlines at the top of the page first, moving horizontally from left to right. After that, there will be another (shorter) horizontal movement on the left side of the page. The last scan is a vertical movement, which then reads the left part of the content (headings, titles, etc.).

Getting started with business texts

You don’t just throw a good business text out of your sleeve. Try to take the above tips into account and, if possible, try to let others read along. Think of people from your intended target group or people who are professionally involved with language. If this is not possible, simply putting your text aside overnight and looking at it again the next day can also sometimes help.

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