I am a native speaker of German and began learning English as a teenager. I’ve had to work quite hard over the 3+ decades since I moved to New York to really get into the nitty-gritty of idiomatic American English. At this point, most local native speakers wouldn’t be able to tell that I’m writing in my second language because I’ve come a long way since then. But the road was paved with many embarrassing mishaps.

When I work with German-speaking clients, I can relate to the challenges they face when they’re asked to create content in English like research reports, scientific articles, or communications for the public. When I read their documents, I can often “hear” the German voice that is talking. For someone without my background, unfortunately, the writing can sound cumbersome and awkward, to the point where it’s confusing or even unintelligible.

Trying to improve on the English usage of the original author often requires that I re-write the document in its entirety. This extends to both choice of vocabulary and use of syntax. So, if you are in that position, I have some useful tips for you.

1. Germans are notorious for creating run-on sentences. The first thing you can do to make your content easier to comprehend is to stick to short, simple sentences. Your writing will keep your reader’s attention if you choose interesting words and expressions rather than complicated, lengthy sentence structures.

2. Germans are used to keeping things in the back of their minds until they reach the end of a long sentence, which is were the active verb is often found that holds everything together. English-speakers, not so much. Start your sentence with subject and verb, followed by anything else that needs to be added. Of course, it’s nice to have some variety, but most sentences should follow this format.

3. Use the active voice whenever possible. This should be your default sentence format. Use interesting adverbs and adjectives, but don’t stuff sentences with too many nouns. English speakers prefer simplicity and flow. Again, make it interesting by using colorful terms and idioms rather than elaborate sentence structures, or you will lose your reader half-way through.

Even for a highly educated audience of fellow scientists and medical professionals, it’s appropriate to stick to a straight-forward writing style that even a ten-year-old could comprehend. People are busy. They need to consume a lot of information every day, so present it to them on a silver platter using simple, straight-forward stylistic choices.

I’ve seen it happen that even editors at peer-review journals are grateful when submissions they receive are to the point and easy to understand. It can make a difference between acceptance and rejection of your research report or article. And that’s worth a lot, I know!