Not everyone understands B1 level: make your text understandable

If you finally write according to the rules at B1 level, a part of your target group still does not understand the text. That can only happen. If you write at B1 level, you have 80% of the population in the pocket. That’s a nice score, but about 20% (3.5 million people) don’t understand your text or forms (yet). Yet you can reach a large part (6%) of them if you know what to take into account.

Which group am I talking about?

In the Netherlands, 1.1 million people have a mild intellectual disability (LVB) or are mentally retarded. Their IQ is between 50 and 85. They simply participate in society and also use services in the (semi) public sector, education or healthcare.

Their limitation affects the processing of information. Compare it to a situation where you ask a question to a friendly Frenchman with your best ‘school French’. And then he starts rattling at you at high speed. How nice would it be if the man stopped for a moment after each sentence? That gives you time to think about what exactly you have heard and how you can translate it.

Then my comparison ends. Because for most people, consciously or not, a lightning-fast processing process of information arises, resulting in a conclusion or decision. This is not the case in people with MID. Not only do they think more slowly, they also have trouble associating and generalizing information. What seems logical to us, doesn’t have to be to them. Planning, solving problems: it is not easy for them.

How do you reach these 1.1 million people with an MID? I share 3 tips.

1. Share the information in small steps

  • Opt more often for a decision tree with a maximum of 3 options at a time instead of a large overview with all choices. And make sure that after each choice you have a new screen with the following choice.
  • For longer texts, make short and clear paragraphs. Offer these per paragraph.
  • Be aware that the reader does not always have sufficient (prior) knowledge. You can solve this by creating a link with ‘What is…?’ to explain the concept.
  • Share the information as concretely as possible. You can do this with a ‘more explanation’ button.

An example


Thank you for your form, we will inform you within 4 weeks whether you are eligible for benefits.


Thank you for your form.
We are going to read your form.
We will then discuss whether you can receive a benefit.
You can only receive a benefit if:

  • List of requirements/a button with ‘Read the requirements here’.

We will let you know within 4 weeks whether you will receive a benefit.
We do this by e-mail/letter/conversation.

2. Write even easier than at B1 level

In previous articles on Frankwatching you can read how you can write clear texts at B1 level. For people with an MID it needs to be one step simpler, namely at A2 level. Below are some guidelines:


  • Only mention the main issues: it is difficult for this target group to distinguish between main and side issues.
  • Keep the text short: the target audience’s attention span is often short.
  • Make short sentences (use 7 to 9 words) and always use the same sentence structure.
  • One topic or idea per sentence (so no subclauses).

When choosing your words, keep the following in mind

  • Use words from everyday life, so no difficult words or abstractions. Can’t it be otherwise? Then explain these words. Choose words that you would also use to a 10-year-old.
  • Don’t use imagery. People with MID often tend to take words literally.
  • Avoid words with more than three syllables unless they are commonplace (for example, “toothbrush”).
  • Do not use more than one adverb (that, this, that, there) per sentence.
  • Use positive language, not ‘It’s not easy’, but ‘It’s difficult’.
  • Avoid redundant sentences or words such as different, determined or diverse: they distract from the core you want to communicate.
  • Use words consistently, so no synonyms, even if you repeat yourself.

An example of information about healthy eating


Whole grain

Whole-grain products should not be missing, such as whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice. Just like in fruit and vegetables, these products contain a lot of fiber. They contribute to good digestion, a feeling of fullness after eating and reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer.


Whole grain

It is healthy to eat a lot of fiber.
Fiber helps your stomach and intestines to digest food.
It takes longer before you get hungry again.
It’s better for your heart and blood vessels.
You are less likely to get diabetes.
You are less likely to get colon cancer.

Which foods contain a lot of fiber?

The skin around grains consists of fibres.
Food that still has that skin in it is called whole wheat.
For example, whole wheat bread or whole wheat pasta.
Rice also has a skin with fiber.
This rice is called brown rice.
Fruit and vegetables also contain a lot of fiber.

3. Offer information in different ways

Information is often better understood and remembered when you use multiple senses. Therefore, support text with simple visual material and provide a read button and sufficient contrast on the page. The latter is also necessary for people who are visually impaired or illiterate. The use of a video is also an option. Make sure the tempo in the video is slow and include pauses, in which the receiver can process the information.

An example: Steffie, the site that explains difficult things easily

The website is fully equipped for people with an MID. This site explains difficult things in a simple way. Applying for benefits or benefits, handling money, what is corona? Steffie makes it clear in small, clear steps using text, spoken language and images. With the additional option that the recipient decides for himself whether he wants to repeat the information or whether he can continue to the next step. So don’t hesitate to link to the relevant topic on Steffie on your own website.

Not finished yet?

Below I share a number of websites with information or tools for easy writing.

Good luck with making your text understandable!

Source: Frankwatching by

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