Let's talk about Plain Language

One best practice for improving health literacy is to use plain language. Plainlanguage.gov describes plain language as "communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it". Written material is in plain language if your audience can:

  • Find what they need;
  • Understand what they find; and
  • Use what they find to meet their needs.

One way to think about plain language is to use language that anybody on the street could understand - use every day language. Avoid medical jargon and terminology. Keep messages simple and clear. Patients want to understand about their health and you can help ensure that they do by using language that they will understand.

Here are some examples:

Instead of analgesic say pain killer
Instead of contraception say birth control
Instead of monitor say watch or keep track of

Plain Language Medical Dictionary
Sometime it can be hard to think of an easy to understand or plain language definition for a medical term. This cool tool from the University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library can help. To use, click on the drop down menu to browse the list of high-level medical terms. Once a word or phrase is selected, the plain language translation will appear in the box.

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