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Words and style

You may speak English very well, but it is easy to make small mistakes when writing in English. These kinds of mistakes can annoy or mislead your readers.

It's not just about using correct grammar or having readable content: your texts should use words that native speakers use when searching for information; otherwise less people will find your page.

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Avoid jargon...

... unless writing exclusively for experts in the field. If your text is understandable only to insiders, it will exclude large numbers of potential readers.

If you have to use jargon, then at least explain what it means the first time you use it.

For a list of tips, see

 
 

Watch out for false friends

These are words in two languages that look or sound familiar but have different meanings. See some examples of false friends.

 
 

Tips

Acronyms

Explain an acronym the first time you use it. Search engine users may look for the acronym or words from its full name so include both to increase their chances of finding your page. However, using acronyms too much could alienate non-specialist readers so there are other ways of shortening long names.

Wrong approach 

Correct approach

Cedefop

European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (or, after the first mention, simply “the Centre”)

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Use the active voice (not the passive)

  • It makes text clearer and more personal because it identifies the actors in the sentence. It also introduces the action at the earliest stage, so readers can work out what’s happening.
  • It puts the actions in the order they happen so readers can follow the logical sequence of events.

Wrong approach

Correct approach

Complaints may be submitted to the Commission in writing
(not clear who will submit)

You can submit a complaint to the Commission in writing
(or just you can complain to")

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Avoid using the third person

Address readers directly by using “you” - this is more engaging and more personally.

Wrong approach

Correct approach

Complainants must quote the case number of the complaint in any correspondence

Please mention your complaint number every time you write to us

Similarly, consistent reference to ourselves in the third person seems self-important and can be misleading by giving the impression that there is a third party involved.

Wrong approach

Correct approach

If the Commission considers that there may be an infringement of Community law which warrants the opening of an infringement procedure, it addresses a "letter of formal notice" to the Member State concerned, requesting it to submit its observations by a specified date.

If we believe the breach may have been severe enough to justify us taking formal action, we will formally notify the authorities concerned in writing (in a "letter of formal notice"), asking them to respond by a certain deadline

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Be explicit: choose simple, concrete words

Using simple words should not be seen as dumbing down but rather ensuring that we don't overestimate readers' knowledge.

Wrong approach

Correct approach

employment opportunities

jobs

investing in human capital

(workforce) training / improving (workers’) skills / training and education

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Use verbs (not nouns)

  • They describe the action rather than hiding it in nouns.
  • They engage readers and are more direct, concrete and conversational than nouns.

Wrong approach

Correct approach

The President decides on the internal organisation of the Commission

The President decides how the Commission’s work is organised

Since the accession of Poland to the EU

Since Poland joined the EU

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Avoid negative sentences

These can often make the sentence difficult to understand (especially when double negatives are used.

Wrong approach

Correct approach

for not less than one year

for at least a year

… if they have not lost their entitlement to vote in their country of origin

… if they are still entitled to vote in their country of origin

does not comply with

infringes

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Don’t overuse capital letters

This makes text seem self‑important and is harder to read. All of the following are quite acceptable:

Wrong approach

Correct approach

Documents, policy areas

environment white paper, information society
technologies

Titles of programmes, events, bodies

European year of equal opportunities, 7th research framework programme, environment summit / conference, German presidency, delegation

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Use short, simple sentences

The general aim should be no more than one subordinate clause per sentence. But for readability, including some longer sentences is best. The main thing to avoid is text with mostly long and complex sentences.

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Picture captions

Captions draw a reader’s eye, so use them to add an extra layer of information or highlight a point from the main text.

Wrong approach

Correct approach

X, Y and Z at the summit

X, Y and Z discuss the breakthrough on EU emissions trading

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