15 tips for writing texts
Most of these points are about writing plain English. You can find more details and helpful illustrations on the website of the Plain English Campaign. See especially http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/free-guides.html.
- Front-load information in each sentence and each paragraph.
- Avoid passive verbs. Passive verbs often make sentences unnecessarily long and complicated. They can also be impersonal and therefore less informative: compare ‘The experiment was set up in 2017’ with ‘The research team set up the experiment in 2017’.
- Put things positively. Negative formulations (using ‘not’) are usually best avoided. Highlight positive qualities and try to present neutral or negative information positively.
- Vary your sentences. Avoid sentences that are all constructed in the same way. It sounds monotonous and takes the pace out of your text. Instead, alternate between shorter and longer sentences, sentences with the subject first and sentences beginning with something else. Sentences consisting of a question or just a couple of words (‘Nice work!’) also add variety.
- Make your writing concrete and recognisable. You will hold readers’ attention if the text is concrete and recognisable. Use examples and write about real people. A quotation or the use of the first person (‘I’) makes the subject matter more vivid. Try to write B1-level English. Even academically trained readers prefer simple text.
- Keep sentences short and simple: only one point per sentence. If you exceed 20 words, see if you can express the same idea more briefly. Two sentences may be better than one, even though English sentences tend to be a little longer than Dutch ones.
- Use bullet points.
- Give each paragraph a heading of no more than five words.
- Don't use too many adjectives.
- Avoid jargon. Most jargon is completely unnecessary and you can easily avoid it. Is it more convenient for your target group if you use jargon? Then be sure to explain specialised terms in your introduction so that other readers can understand your text too.
- Use visual material. A picture is worth a thousand words... Provide clear visual material that supports your text. Using images with text or numbers? Check that the page is also legible on a smartphone. Avoid stock photos where possible. Your own photos will work far better.
- Avoid old-fashioned language. Nobody says ‘incipient’, ‘notwithstanding’ or ‘endeavour’. Use spoken language. Even on paper, it sounds fresher and more natural than written language.
- Avoid the noun-style. Noun style uses nouns for actions that you could describe with verbs. Keep it active, and say who is doing what. ‘They are supporting us’, not ‘they are providing us with support’; ‘we analysed the figures’, not ‘we conducted an analysis of the figures’.
- Delete superfluous words.
- Be sparing with examples.