In a previous article, I described the work of Sir Ernest Gowers, an advocate of plain language. His message is “be short, be simple, be human.”
Medical professionals need to master the art of communicating simply and clearly almost more than anyone else. Why, for example, would anyone believe that it’s better to say, “Do not exceed the stated dose,” than the simpler, “Don’t take more than the right amount”?
We know that many people are undereducated; others are speakers of other languages; three of the words in that sentence (exceed, stated, dose) are a little difficult for some; and others may have reading disabilities.
Even if we aren’t talking to patients, we need to communicate consistently in ways everyone can understand. People don’t have the time to plow through hard-to-read documents. The days when we believed that long words, vogue expressions, and jargon made us sound learned are simply over. Global audiences demand clarity of thought and simplicity of expression.
Recognizing this problem, the NIH has an excellent resource that will help people in medicine to simplify their language. At no charge, they offer an online course with examples and practical exercises to help medical professionals improve their writing. The system tracks your progress, and, when you’ve completed the course, you can print out a certificate of completion.