On the Comprehensibility of „Guidebooks“ in the Banking Field

In the process of the development of the informational society, a great significance is attached to the understanding of a text, especially, if this refers to the transfer of knowledge, where mutual understanding has to be established between specialists and non-specialists in a certain field. A recipient should be provided information in such a way that he/she understands the content of a text based on his/her experience and knowledge in the given field. When a certain knowledge in a particular field is transferred to a non-specialist, one of the major problems, which comes up, is related to a linguistic structure of a text.

Banking is a rapidly developing field. In most cases, the awareness and knowledge of the customers is low. The situation is aggravated by the specifics of the field. Frequently, communication with financial institutions is unclear. A customer feels that the financial institutions provide information in a vague manner with the aim of avoiding certain risks. Hence, there is a problem of compiling, modelling and comprehending of texts in the banking field. In this regard, it is interesting to compare German texts with the Georgian ones and to share the experience of Germany, which has a well-developed banking system.

The aim of the paper is to implement a comparative analysis of German and Georgian banking guides. The research is mostly focused on the text comprehension model, because the study of instructions in the field of banking embraces certain linguistic features of a text, which has to be comprehensible for a reader in order for the latter to perform the banking transactions correctly and legally.

The research outcomes will be of interest for scholars focusing on text linguistics, translation of texts in the given field, teaching of translation, searching and processing of information, language teaching, research and analysis of the linguistic and cultural peculiarities of instructional texts. 

A guidebook is a type of a text, which provides recommendations and consultation. As compared to other types of a text, it is closer to the general language. The English terms for such texts are: booklet, guide, guideline. The German terms are: Ratgeber, Ratschläge, Richtlinien. The Georgian terms are: გზამკვლევი, მეგზური, ბროშურა, ბუკლეტი, გაიდი, გაიდლაინი. The volume of such texts usually varies from 12 to 30 pages.

The types of recommendation texts [Fandrych... 2011: 250] are found in diverse contexts, based on the field in which advice is given, depending on a communicative situation. All the texts of this type are based on a common principle – in a problematic situation, a person seeks advice and addresses another person for help. The recommendation may be provided within an institutional frame. An advisor may be an expert or he/she may have an adequate educational background (in a certain field, for instance, medicine, psychology, law, technology, etc.). A recommendation may be given publicly, aimed at a concrete addressee as well as other addressees. There are different media formats of guides: a printed form, a telephone, internet, special radio programs, etc.

Frequently, the addressees are not only those, who seek advice, but the entire society, readers of newspapers and magazines and users of the internet. Sometimes there are fictitious persons, whose problems are discussed, whereas the problems are general and recommendations are aimed at the society at large. A person, who gives advice, is either mentioned in a headline or remains unnamed.

Guidelines used in written communication differ from oral recommendations in their structure. In written texts, advice is given regarding certain situations. However, a concrete problem is not verbalized. Therefore, it is impossible to identify a seeker of the advice.

The corpus of analysis of this type of texts embraces 20 German and 20 Georgian guidelines. Some of them are found in a printed form, while others are electronic. Such texts are provided by banks (national or private), micro-finance organizations, organizations protecting the customers’ rights as well as private persons.

According to D. Löffler, guides pertain to media texts, namely, journalist texts. Such texts differ from brief recommendations and questions & answers texts [Löffler, 2007: 16].

According to Fandrych and Thurmair [Fandrych... 2011: 251], recommendation texts are found in the public context in the printed media. A seeker of advice wants to find the solution of a complicated problem, but he/she does not know how to do it. When obtaining advice, he/she may make a concrete action plan and find a way out of a difficult situation.

Despite variations, all recommendation texts have a common feature – they consist of two parts: the first part explains a problem of a seeker of advice, the explanation of a problem is given in an interrogative form. In the second part, a provider of the advice gives an answer to the problem. In the first part, the problem is drawn (mostly in the form of a narrative), sometimes in a form of a concrete question. In the second part, which reacts to the problem, a provider of the advice tries to analyze the situation and give a recommendation that will help to solve the problem. A seeker of the advice is provided with a certain action plan (or several alternatives), which is often instructional and aims at influencing a customer’s behavior. The instructions are not obligatory in nature and the implementation of certain actions entirely depends on an addressee. The function of such texts is not to instruct, but to give recommendations, which are not always explicitly described in a text.

The financial crisis has affected the banking system. The customers (physical persons) should be provided clear and comprehensible information about the banking products and related risks. The banks have a possibility to obtain the customers’ trust if they provide clear and transparent information.

Recently, a great importance has been attached to written instructional texts, provided in printed and electronic forms and offering an assistance regarding decisions about certain products and their efficient use. There is an increased demand on such texts on the part of both – a provider and a customer. This demand is due to the introduction of new regulations in diverse fields, aimed at standardization and sharing of worldwide practices. Therefore, the expectations of the readers of corresponding texts are higher.

There is a great number of diverse online-guides, uploaded to bank websites as well as other media.

Frequently, customer guides fail to perform a communicative function, as they are not formulated in a comprehensible manner. The aim of the given research is to find out whether the German and Georgian guides are comprehensible enough for a reader.

The research is based on Karlsruhe model, the so-called Göpferich model [Göpferich, 2002], providing a theory of six dimensions, based on which unclear textual features may be explained and categorized.

Out of six dimensions given in the Göpferich model, we have used four: simplicity, clarity, a structure and a text perception (Simplizität, Prägnanz, Struktur, Perzipierbarkeit) [Göpferich, 2002].  

„Simplicity“ means a precise selection of words and simple sentence structuring. It embraces the analysis of lexical and grammatical simplicity. A lexical simplicity implies avoidance of unexplained and undefined formulations and abbreviations that are considered as known to a reader and are characteristic for the given type of a text. There are several criteria of simplicity: foreign words or terms  are used in a text in accordance with the principle of economy and explained sufficiently. Therefore, we should find out whether or not a synonym given in a text is comprehensible for a reader [Göpferich, 2002: 176]; one and the same term should be used, and its synonyms should be avoided; abstract notions and long composites should also be avoided [Göpferich, 2002: 185].

Below is given an example of the vague terminology. The term is explained by means of excessive number of synonyms. This eventually leads to misunderstanding:

Der Ratenkredit ist das klassische Verbraucherdarlehen für Konsumzwecke. Banken und Sparkassen bieten Ratenkredite aus Verkaufsgründen unter unterschiedlichen Bezeichnungen wie Privatkredit, Onlinekredit, Sofortkredit, Kleinkredit oder Konsumkredit an. Dabei handelt es sich stets um dasselbe Produkt - eben einen Ratenkredit. 

In order to achieve a syntactic simplicity, the complexity and depth of a sentence should be restricted based on its communicative function and the conventionality of a type of a text. Complex sentences should be replaced by short and grammatically simple sentences. Complex and parenthetical sentences should be avoided. A sentence will be less complex if we reduce nominalization, functional verbs, the use of passive voice and numerous conjunctions [Göpferich, 2002: 178-180].

Below is given an example of an extremely long complex sentence (45 words) with six conjunctions:

Denn auch wenn das Sparkonto gut verzinst wird, muss man bedenken, dass die Zinsen für den Kontokorrentkredit im Schnitt zweieinhalb- bis dreimal höher liegen, was dann unterm Strich dazu führt, dass man draufzahlt, wenn man den Dispo über längere Zeit unausgeglichen im Minus stehen lässt.

A lexical simplicity depends on a degree of complexity of a field. Guidelines are mostly targeted at non-specialists in a certain field. Therefore, as compared to the texts pertaining to an internal communication within a field, guidelines should contain a minimal field terminology. However, in both German and Georgian texts, there are misleading terms represented in diverse synonyms. As for the grammar, these texts abound in long, complex sentences and a nominal style. This especially refers to German guidelines, whereas in Georgian texts compound sentences are more frequent.

A text should not contain unnecessary parts. However, the lack of a significant information is also inadmissible. Extra words in a text lead to the lack of comprehension. In certain cases, extra parts may not complicate a text, yet, for the perception of a long text, a reader needs to make more efforts.

According to Göpferich, information is insufficient when a text contains certain words or terms that are well-known to specialists, but alien to non-specialists in the given field. In order to make a text comprehensible for non-specialists, the content must be given explicitly and clearly. An inter-field communication requires a background knowledge and non-professionals are unable to understand a text, because they lack such background knowledge.

Naturally, when information is incomplete, a reader is dissatisfied and this negatively affects his/her motivation. In the example below, a more precise definition would make the text more comprehensible for a non-specialist reader:

კომერციული ბანკების მიერ საბანკო მომსახურების გაწევისას მომხმარებლისათვის აუცილებელი ინფორმაციის წესის მიზნებისათვის ინდექსირებული საპროცენტო განაკვეთი არის საპროცენტო განაკვეთი, რომელიც გარკვეული წესით მიბმულია რაიმე საჯარო ინდექსზე და რომლის ცვლილებაც აღნიშნული ინდექსის ცვლილებითაა გამოწვეული; საჯარო ინდექსი არის ისეთი საჯაროდ ხელმისაწვდომი მაჩვენებელი, განაკვეთი ან ინდექსი, რომელზეც ბანკი ვერ ახდენს  მნიშვნელოვან გავლენას.

I will provide some more examples of unclear, vague texts. An abstract from the German guide represents an example of an insufficient information. In this example, the second sentence is an addition to the first one. It is given in the footnotes in an extremely small-size font and, what is more, it is completely controversial to the information provided in the first sentence:

Bei Abhebungen im Ausland an Geldautomaten mit BusinessCard mit PlusPaket entfällt das Bearbeitungsentgelt.

Das Entgelt für Fremdwährungsumsätze sowie für EUR-Umsätze in nicht zum EWR gehörenden Staaten ist hiervon unberührt.

Frequently, a great number of terms are given without explanation:

Der Kontokorrentkredit an Privatpersonen wird als standardisierter Dispositionskredit zur Verfügung gestellt und dient der Konsumfinanzierung (Konsumkredit).

Insignificant extra details are often mentioned both in German and Georgian texts. These details do not provide any new or necessary information to the reader:

Die GeldKarte ist die elektronische Schwester von klassischem Bargeld und Geldbörse – wer sie in den Händen hat, kann damit bezahlen.

Below is given an example from the Georgian guide. This excerpt contains extra, unnecessary information:

ხარჯების ამ ორომტრიალში, მოდი, „ყველა კვერცხს ერთ კალათში ნუ მოვათავსებთ.

ოვერდრაფტი ძალიან გავს საკრედიტო ბარათს. განსხვავება ისაა, რომ ოვერდრაფტი ჩვეულებრივ, მიბმულია მოხმარებლის ხელფასზე და ათვისებულ თანხაზე არ მოქმედებს საშეღავათო პერიოდი.

As the majority of addressees have an insufficient knowledge in the field of banking, the guides should not contain a great number of terms, as they hamper an efficient communication. Instead, a text should contain definitions and metacommunication elements. However, in banking texts, such elements are scarce and they are restricted to certain instructions and explanations.


The dimension of „structure“ refers to a structure of the content. In certain cases, there is a conceptual incompatibility between a text and its title. Göpferich distinguishes macro and micro levels of a structure. A macro-level embraces paragraphs and large units, whereas a micro-level is restricted to two adjacent sentences.

The structure of banking guides is characterized by a great number of paragraphs. These paragraphs divide the content of a text into separate units of information. These units are interlinked and cognitively unified. There are also numerous headings (sub-headings) pointing to the contents of the following paragraph and thus providing quick and precise structuring of information.

As for a macro-level, there are three types of banking guides: the so-called “guidebooks”, banking/financial advice and questions&answers. Most guidebooks, worked out by banks themselves, are very similar. For instance, TBC Bank offers its customers the magazine “Closer”, which, alongside with topics about art and culture, embraces financial advice. The magazine is published in printed and electronic forms. Below is given an example of a macro-level structure of financial advice:

Title –Are you prepared for the Future?

The author’s name and photograph.


დაზოგვა  Savings 

1. „მომავალი შორსაა“   1. The Future is Far Away

2. არ გვაქვს  „ზედმეტი“ ფული დასაზოგად  2. We Don´t Have any Money Left over for 


3. მოკლევადიანი ხედვა  3. Short-term Vision

4. მომავლის ოპტიმისტური შეფასება  4. Optimistic Assessment of the Future

5. ვიცით, მაგრამ არ ვაკეთებთ 5. We Know It, but We Don´t Do It

დაზოგვა და რისკების მართვა  Savings and Risk Management

ფულის დაბანდების შეფასების ჩარჩო  Investment Assessment


Interestingly enough, the text is published in the Georgian and English languages. This means, that the bank’s addressees are also foreigners interested in the innovations in the given field.

The titles are typical texts that perform a complex function. They have a comparatively simple structure. Like the texts, they have conventional and individual features. The main title of the text is an expression of macro-proposition, whereas subtitles are thematically formulated and point to a certain topic. They are visually ostensible i.e. given in a bold type or a large font size.

Subtitles in the German guidebooks point to the function of the following part of the text. For instance:

Tagesgeld und Festgeld Angebote

Unterschiede bei den Girokontogebühren beachten

Worauf ist bei einer Tagesgeldanlage letztlich zu achten?

The subtitles in the Georgian texts are frequently invocational:

დავიწყოთ დღეს და ახლა!

ვმართოთ ჩვენი ბიუჯეტი სწორად

შევადგინოთ ჩვენი ფინანსური ვალდებულებების სია

Interrogative sentences usually fulfill the function of the text structuring. This especially refers to the German texts, where subtitles are often given in the form of questions. This makes it easy for a reader to concentrate on a concrete issue and find the necessary information effortlessly:

Wie sieht es mit Tagesgeld und Festgeld aus?

Bietet das Bankinstitut auch eine kostenlose Kreditkarte an und wie sehen die Konditionen in Bezug auf einen potentiellen Kredit aus?

Wird mir ein gebührenfreies Girokonto angeboten?

According to Göpferich, the “structure” is damaged if a text does not correspond to its title. This will confuse and demotivate a reader.

The following example shows the lack of connection between the title and the contents of the text:

Title: Tausche Altersarmut gegen Armut schon in jungen Jahren.

Text: Doch wer auf der untergehenden „Titanic“ steht, hat kaum eine Wahl: wenn er springt, heißt übersetzt Dividendenpapiere kauft, kann er ertrinken beziehungsweise Geld verlieren, wenn er nichts unternimmt, geht er sicher unter beziehungsweise wird arm. 

In the example below, information is not equally distributed. The structure of the text is damaged. The functions of the giro account are given on page 5, whereas the information about opening such account is provided only on page 28:

Funktionen des Girokontos – Der Dispositionskredit (S 5)

Die Kontoeröffnung (S 28)

In general, a combination of communicative devices plays an important role in the formation of a specific macro-structure of texts in a specific field. Communicative devices, or, pragmatically speaking, types of speech acts, ensure the coherence of texts. They represent the structural elements of a communicative plan, serving to fulfill a certain communicative intention.

Communicative devices characterizing guidebooks are: description, explanation, detailed analysis, confirmation, argumentation, questions. In contemporary guidebooks, definitions and warnings are also frequent. The paragraph below is an example of the definition:

ფიშინგი არის ყალბი მეილი, რომელიც ცდილობს მოიპოვოს თქვენი პირადი და კონფიდენციალური ინფორმაცია, თაღლითობის ჩასადენად ან კომპიუტერზე საზიანო პროგრამის დასაყენებლად.

Examples of warnings are found both in German and Georgian texts:

Doch auf versteckte Gebühren muss auch hier besonders geachtet werden, denn die einzelnen Angebote unterscheiden sich massiv bei Guthaben und Sollzinsen.

დაბოლოს, კარგად დაფიქრდით, სანამ სესხის ვალუტას აირჩევდეთ: გაიაზრეთ, თუ რა ვალუტაში გაქვთ შემოსავალი, და დაიმახსოვრეთ, რომ გაცვლითი კურსის ცვლილებას შეუძლია მნიშვნელოვნად შეცვალოს თქვენი უცხოური ვალუტის სესხის შენატანების ღირებულება ლარში.

It should be noted that recently there is a tendency for standardization of guidebook texts. This means that a macro-structure of such texts is frequently provided in question&answer format. This is also efficient from a visual perspective, as an addressee is focused on a concrete question, as compared to texts of large format, a macro-structure of which is hard to perceive.

The dimension „text perception“ is focused on macro and micro typographic features of a text. Comprehensibility is evaluated based on the ability to perceive a text by means of sense organs (the system, which is responsible for the creation of senses). A reader should easily perceive a structure and content of a text, for instance, by means of non-verbal devices.

Unfortunately, neither German nor Georgian texts satisfy the principles of a cognitive perception. The photographs and videos are aimed at the visualization of a problem and not at the problem-solving.

As for a visual side of the Georgian printed texts, the small size of the font often hampers the process of perception.

The guidebooks arouse the emotions of an addressee by means of graphic elements, vivid colors, fonts of different size, pictures, etc. The visual illustrations of guidebooks are quite modest. The pictures perform stimulating and informational functions. Out of the visual devices, photographs are most frequent. They support an emotional structure of a text. Verbal texts are quite rare.

As for the simplicity of the banking guidebooks: German guidebooks are characterized by long complex sentences, a nominal style and a special terminology. All this hampers comprehension of a text. A reader is confused by numerous synonyms, as the terms do not always have the same names. Long compound nouns are especially frequent in German texts.

Both German and Georgian guidebooks fail to meet the requirement of “precision”. They either contain an unnecessary information or lack a significant information. Foreign words and terms are not sufficiently explained.

Guidebooks should satisfy the criterion of „structure“. This is especially important, because a well-built structure facilitates the perception of information given in a text. In the banking guidebooks, parts of a text are structured more or less freely. This is especially obvious in Georgian guidebooks. In many cases, the title and the text are incompatible, information is inconsistent. All this damages a dimension of a structure.

A visual illustration of guidebooks is relatively modest. The pictures perform stimulating and informative functions. Both German and Georgian texts fail to meet the principles of “perception”; photographs and videos are aimed at visualization of a problem and not at solutions. Frequently, it is unclear whether we are reading recommendational texts or advertisements. The advice provided by a bank is overly-general. There is neither explanation of the problem nor a concrete problem-solving recommendation. 

In order to implement a linguistic research of banking texts, namely, guidebooks, the corresponding methodology and criteria should be worked out. This kind of research is vital for the facilitation of comprehension of banking texts and guidebooks as well as for the facilitation of communication.  Such facilitation will make a text more transparent. A transparent and comprehensible text should inform the customers about the expected benefits (this is favorable for a bank). However, a text should also inform a customer about the risks related to concrete banking activities on the part of a customer.


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