Writing in Plain Language

Pencil with alphabet

To write in plain language means to use the simplest, most straightforward way of expressing an idea. Doing so will ensure your audience understands it the first time they read or hear it. Materials are in plain language if your audience can:

  • Find what they are looking for
  • Understand what they find the first time they read or hear it
  • Use what they find to meet their needs

The following are resources and tools that can help you develop or assess patient materials so that they adhere to plain language principles.

Plain Language Tools

Program for Readability in Science & Medicine Toolkit Online Training

  • The goal of this FREE, hour-long course is to help research teams improve the readability of consent forms and other participant materials.
  • If you provide your email address when you register, you can exit the course, re-enter and go back to the page you were on last.
  • You will need speakers or headphones to hear the audio track.

Program for Readability in Science & Medicine Toolkit

The Program for Readability In Science & Medicine (PRISM) was inspired by health literacy concerns in health care and health research. PRISM’s goal is to bring readability awareness and plain language training and tools to researchers nationwide. Using plain language is a proven way to help make scientific and medical information easier for study participants, patients, and the public to understand.t.

Plain Language Medical Dictionary

The Plain Language Medical Dictionary widget is a project of the University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library as part of the Michigan Health Literacy Awareness project.

Everyday Words for Public Health Communication   

Everyday Words for Public Health Communication offers expert recommendations from CDC’s Health Literacy Council and other agency communicators on how to reduce jargon and improve reader understanding. You can search for public health jargon or plain language words and find alternatives and example sentences. 

Just Plain Clear Glossary

The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) is a group of federal employees from different agencies and specialties who support the use of clear communication in government writing. Their guide, “Design for reading,” can help you use design elements to help users read and understand the information.

Clinical Research Glossary

In Spring 2020, the MRCT Center launched a small pilot project with patients and participants and other stakeholders across the research industry, to develop plain language definitions of clinical research words.

Writing in Plain and Understandable Language

PEMAT (Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool) and User’s Guide

A systematic method to evaluate and compare the understandability and actionability of patient education materials. It is designed as a guide to help determine whether patients will be able to understand and act on information. Separate tools are available for use with print and audiovisual materials. 

CDC Clear Communication Index

The CDC Clear Communication Index (Index) is a research-based tool to help you develop and assess public communication materials. 

Making Data Talk: A Workbook 

This workbook was created by the National Cancer Institute to help you select and communicate quantitative data in ways lay audiences can understand. 

Design for reading

Designing for reading is an important part of developing effective communications. Writing that is legible and well-organized is far easier to understand than more traditional styles. Even with regulations and the limits of publishing in the Code of Federal Regulations, you can use design elements to help users read and understand the information.

Last modified: 11/04/21