On writing accessible texts that people understand

Writing is one of the most valuable tools for communicating and thinking. Let's make text accessible for people.

Writing is one of the most valuable tools for communicating and thinking. But we often forget why we write and for whom. Even though that is crucial knowledge because, when you write a text for other people, you want readers to understand it. You want it to be accessible.

You increase text accessibility by applying a few simple rules.

Use short sentences and words

A text is easier to read if it consists of short sentences and words. As a rule, use sentences that are on average no longer than 14 words. I prefer shorter.

Use short words because they are less complex. I don't have a maximum length for words, but I choose the shortest one that fits. Sometimes I use several short words instead of one long one.

Use words that people understand

People tend to use technical terms when talking about their area of expertise. The problem with those words is that not everyone is familiar with them. They may have heard them before, but they don't know the meaning.

The use of technical terms makes people think about the word and not about the message. That goes for "difficult" words in general. I therefore use "technical terms" and not "jargon".

Easy words make readers read the message instead of thinking about what words mean.

Don’t mix languages

I’m Dutch, and more and more people mix Dutch and English language. The use of different languages ​​makes a text less accessible. Pick a main language and stick with it. Not all readers understand the other language, and it disrupts the reading process. Switching distracts from the message.

Occasionally, a language misses a native alternative for a word. In those cases, use common sense.

Use the least amount of words

Writing texts is throwing away what you have written. You want people to focus on the message and not on side issues. Cut out information that is unnecessary for the message. It distracts and creates confusion.

And while you are cutting your text, delete expressions like very much and overwhelming. Usually, they add no value. When you need those words, the text itself may not be clear enough. In general, put a limiter on adverbs.

An example for accessible texts

In the next two examples, the message is the same, but with a different style.

"You want to write text that is understandable, so it is important that you do not mistakenly use difficult words and make sentences excessively long."

"You want to write texts that people understand. You achieve that with short sentences and words that people know."

The second example is easier to read than the first because:

  1. The sentences are shorter. The first text has 1 sentence of 24 words and the second 2 sentences of 9 words on average.
  2. It has less long words.
  3. The text is shorter. Words such as mistakenly and excessively do not add value to the reader. That's why I cut them out.

Take simple as a compliment

Every now and then I get the comment that my writing is simple. That's often not meant as a compliment, but for me, it is. When you keep a text simple, you make complexity less complex. And that means it is accessible to more people, even if the subject is complex.

Keep your texts simple, write for people.

You might also like: How to write without distraction with Markdown.