Garblog's Pages

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Use easy-to-read, simple and plain language when writing about health, science, how-to-do-it

Certainly, everyone who's read about health care for themselves and their loved ones knows the value of concise, clearly written, and simply designed information. If it's easy to read, we're more likely to get the benefits we seek, even if those "benefits" include getting bad news or learning actions we must take to improve and protect our health.

Written information about science doesn't pertain immediately or obviously to most of us. But concise, clearly written and designed documents about science can be valuable when we want to learn more about the influences of scientific findings and theory on our lives--from our health to our environment, to our work, to our play.

I'm focusing on writing about health and science in this post because I read two articles today, May 5, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, that discuss those topics. A third article discusses a topic often related: writing easy-to-read instructions.

Medline Plus has an excellent Web page called How to Write Easy-to-Read Health Materials. Introducing its information, the site says:

Medical concepts and language are very complex. People need easily understandable health information regardless of age, background or reading level.
The site then describes a four-step process:
  • Plan and Research
  • Organize and Write
  • Evaluate and Improve
  • Inform Us and Stay Informed.
The article about science writing is in a recent issue of the Huffington Post:
Alan Alda Urges Scientists To Cut Jargon, Use Simple Language
Reminding readers that Alda was the actor who played Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce on the TV show "M.A.S.H.," the article notes:
Today, the award-winning film and television star is on a mission to teach physicians, physicists and scientists of all types to ditch the jargon and get their points across in clear, simple language.
Alda told the Associated Press:
There's no reason for the jargon when you're trying to communicate the essence of the science to the public because you're talking what amounts to gibberish to them.
Referring to physicians, consumers and lawmakers, Alda said:
They're not going to ask the right questions if science doesn't explain to them what's going on in the most honest and objective way. You can't blame them for not knowing the jargon – it's not their job. Why would anybody put up money for something they don't understand?
The third article, about writing instructions, is on an Oxford Dictionaries Web page titled, of course:
Plain English in practice: writing instructions.
The article begins:
In a previous piece, I looked at some guidelines for writing plain Engl­­­ish: that is, the kind of English that will get your intended meaning across most clearly.
It then uses writing instructions as an example of using plain English (aka plain language):
There are times when clear writing can make the difference between life and death, such as when you’re writing safety instructions.
I encourage readers to check the link noted above: some guidelines for writing plain Engl­­­ishFor more information on improving the clarity of your documents in health care, science, training, or other fields, visit my website: Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

My daily paper, Plain English Paragraphs, is available above at the Plain Language tab and by free email subscription.

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