How to write understandable texts

We all have learned and practiced writing for many years. But even with this huge experience we sometimes have trouble to write well understandable texts. And so we sometimes get a feedback like: “Sorry, but I’m not sure if I understand your text right. May you explain me…? “

In such situation I ask myself: What did I wrong and how can I improve my writing? To write easy to understand texts, it is useful to know why a text is difficult. Therefore, within this article, I want to introduce a method for the rating of texts. This method is called the Hamburg Comprehensibility Concept.

 
Hamburg Comprehensibility Concept

As part of this concept, the scientists involved, have analyzed different aspects by their influence on the text understandability. They found the four main aspects. These are: simplicity, structure, conciseness and stimulation. Further studies showed that people best understood texts which have good values in the categories simplicity, structure. These are therefore the main of the four aspects.

Of course, text cannot be measured exactly by these four general categories and different people may have different opinions for example about the structure of a text. But in practice it has been found, however, that text ratings made by various people are usually close to each other.

Furthermore, if you rate a text, you have to do it with respect to the target audience. For example, a text with technical terms is hard to understand for non-specialists but if the target audience is familiar with the technical terms, the text may be rated as simple.

 
The four aspects

Simplicity

Simplicity is the most important aspect. If you want to reach a wide audience with a varied educational background, you have to write simple.

 
Structure

This aspect becomes increasingly important, the longer the text is. The thread running through the story should always be visible.

 
Conciseness

Try to find a good balance between shortness and detailed descriptions. You may know the slogan: As short as possible and as long as necessary. So it’s not about shortening at all costs. All essential information must be included. But you should not try to fill the text with content of secondary importance. Try to focus on the main topic of your text.

 
Stimulation

If you only write facts, you may lower the attention of the reader. Lively texts are easily understood and will stay in mind. So you can put some little extras into your text to arouse feeling or imaginations. However: Do not use too much of these stimulations. If a text is well organized such little stimulations may increase the pleasure of reading and the understanding of the topic. Vice versa, in confusing texts they increase the confusion in addition.

 
Recommendations

Based on the four aspects there are some recommendations for the design of text:

Simplicity

  • short sentences (9 to 13 words)
  • short words (three syllables)
  • familiar words (no foreign words or technical terms)

 

Structure

  • only one thought per sentence
  • the essence of the text should be shown at the beginning text
  • the essence of the sentence should be shown at the beginning of the sentence

 

Conciseness

  • Show relationships by paragraphs

 

Stimulation

  • use verbs (instead verb-derived nouns)
  • use imaginations
  • use explanatory images and graphics

 
Rate a text

To rate a text the four aspects are used. For each aspect there are several criteria. And each criteria is rated by a 5-point scale from “- -“, “-“, “0”, “+” to “+ +”.

An optimal understandable text shows the following pattern:

  • Simplicity: ++ or +
  • Structure: ++
  • Conciseness: 0 or +
  • Stimulation: 0 or +

 

The following criteria pairs are the rating framework of the model. You have to rate each criteria and create the mean for each of the four aspects.

Simplicity

Simple means: Complicated means:
Short, simple sentences Long, complex sentences
Common words Not familiar words
Technical terms are explained Technical terms are not explained
Concrete Abstract

 

Structure

Structured and organized means: Unorganized means:
Logically Incoherent, confusing
Clearly Confusing
Good distinction between essential and unessential parts Poor differentiation
The thread running through the story is visible You lose the thread
Everything comes sequentially Everything is mixed up

 

Conciseness

Short and concise means: Diffuse means:
Focus on the essential parts A lot of unessential content
Packed content Wide content
Concentrated Digress from the topic
Short In detail
Every word is needed Much of the content could have been omitted

 

Stimulation

With stimulation additions means: Without stimulating additions means:
Stimulating Sober
Interesting Boring
Varied Consistently neutral
Personally Impersonal

 

Summary
If you follow the advices given by the Hamburg Comprehensibility Concept, you will make your texts easier to understand. At first step you may rate you own texts according to the given rating method. And in the next step can write you next texts by using the principles of the concept. Later on you should rate your new texts and hopefully you will see an improvement.

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