Plain Language: Focus on Simplicity
By Cassandra Locke
Writing about health-related government topics can be challenging. Medical jargon, academic terms, and government acronyms can get in the way of relaying important information to the general public, especially on our websites.
Sometimes, writers are told to write for a specific grade-level when preparing information for the public, but I recently attended the Clarity 2012 Plain Language Conference, where I was able to hear Professor Christopher Trudeau, presented his study of legal communication.
The study found that people preferred plain language content regardless of their level of education. Initially, his theory was the lower the person’s education; the more likely he or she would prefer plain-language. The results showed the opposite to be true.
People with less than a bachelor’s degree selected the plain-language version 76.5% of the time; those with bachelor’s degree selected it 79.4% of the time; respondents with master’s or doctoral degrees selected the plain language version 82.0% of the time; and those with doctorates selected it 86.0% of the time. That means respondents with masters or doctoral degrees were actually 5.5% more likely to prefer plain language than those with less than a bachelor’s degree.
The findings in this study, as well as many others, support the idea that must condition us not only to edit our writing for grammatical errors, but also to simplify words in the process. Government websites already have a reputation for having too much jargon and acronyms that cannot be understood.
Which statement is easier to understand?
- Consistent physical activity contributes to the betterment of your health and fitness, while providing a reduction in potentially initiating a myriad of unremitting ailments.
- Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases
Both statements communicate the same thing. Simplifying a few of the words in the second sentence makes it easier to understand. Avoid unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.
It takes practice to write for a broader audience, but a greater percentage of your readership will benefit more from your content.
Visit http://www.hhs.gov/web/building/plainwritingonepage.html for more information.
|Cassandra Locke is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.|
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