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Plain Language Tips & Examples

Plain language helps readers quickly and easily understand your message. Here are 10 simple ways, with examples, to be plain.

Don't use jargon or specialized language that your reader might not understand. 


If you have to use a specialized term, explain briefly what it means, in parentheses. For example: "Patients have the right to make decisions about their bodily integrity (autonomy) and to have access to unbiased and accurate information about relevant medical issues and treatments."


The above quote is from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia's Professional Standards and Guidelines: Medical Assistance in Dying, a good example of a document for a professional audience that is written in plain language.


Poor

Telehealth technology will help doctors build capacity to provide . . .


Better

Telecommunications technology will help doctors provide . . .  


Poor

Flush your central venous catheter twice a week with saline or heparin to keep it patent.


Better

Flush your central venous catheter twice a week with saline or heparin to keep it clear of obstructions.


Poor

We would like to ensure that we are prepared to implement the necessary steps required to control an outbreak of an infectious disease that represents a risk to patients, employees and others associated with our clinics.


Better
We want to make sure that we are ready to control an outbreak of an infectious disease in our clinics.

Acronyms

Likewise, don't use acronyms unless they are well known, for example, HIV/AIDS, EEG. If you do want to use both the acronym and term, use the spelled-out word first, followed by the acronym in brackets, for example, EEG (electroencephalogram).

Poor

Appointments can be made at locations across the province.


Better

You can make an appointment at any location across the province.


Poor

Routine screening mammograms are recommended every year. Patients will be recalled every year. A health care provider’s referral is not required.


Better

The Ministry of Health recommends that women get a routine screening mammogram every year. Once a woman is registered, the Screening Mammography Program will recall her for a mammogram every year. Women do not need a referral from a health-care provider to get a mammogram.

 

As a general rule, recast a list of three or more items in a sentence as a list. Don’t number the items unless the list is a sequence. 


Poor

The video is available in English, 繁體中文 (Mandarin, traditional characters), 简体中文 (Mandarin, simplified characters), ਪੰਜਾਬੀ (Punjabi) and tiếng Việt (Vietnamese).


Better

The video is available in several languages:

  • English
  • 繁體中文 (Mandarin, traditional characters)
  • 简体中文 (Mandarin, simplified characters)
  • ਪੰਜਾਬੀ (Punjabi)
  • tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)

Poor

Our current strategic directions: 1) to become better able to transform laboratory data to useful health information, 2) to strengthen our network to support public health initiatives and 3) to establish collaborate and productive relationships with other laboratories across the province


Better

Our current strategic directions: 

  • to become better able to transform laboratory data to useful health information
  • to strengthen our network to support public health initiatives
  • to establish collaborate and productive relationships with other laboratories across the province


 

Poor

The program has a Punjabi phone line at 604-877-6163 on which you can leave a voicemail message for someone to return your call (calls are only returned on Fridays between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM). In addition, Chinese-speaking booking clerks are often available at 1-800-663-9203. If one is unavailable to take your call, you will be asked if someone can translate on your behalf, or to call back when translation assistance is available. You can also ask a family member or friend to help you with the call. 


Better

The program has a Punjabi phone line at 604-877-6163 on which you can leave a voicemail message for someone to return your call (calls are only returned on Fridays between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM). 


In addition, Chinese-speaking booking clerks are often available at 1-800-663-9203. If one is unavailable to take your call, you will be asked if someone can translate on your behalf, or to call back when translation assistance is available. 


You can also ask a family member or friend to help you with the call. 


 

Poor

We are watching the development of these tools, and although they will require scientific validation before they can be used, they could provide women with an accurate measure of breast density in the future, at which time we would look to implement a system provincially.


Better

We are watching the development of these tools. Although they will require scientific validation before they can be used, if they are validated they could provide women with an accurate measure of breast density in the future.  At that time, we would look to implement a system provincially.

Poor

The Environmental Microbiology Program provides an integrated service that provides expert consultation and testing.


Better

The Environmental Microbiology Program is an integrated service that provides expert consultation and testing.


Poor
Decision tool

Our Decision Tool is now available to support women in making an informed decision to screen for breast cancer using mammography. Complete this short online form to get a personalized report.


Better
Don’t know if you should get a mammogram?

Our short online form can help you decide. 

 

Be specific and concrete rather than vague and abstract, and avoid empty words and phrases


Poor

We have a number of handouts and materials in several languages including Chinese and Punjabi.


Better

We have clinic brochures and patient handouts on childhood diseases. These are available in English, French, Mandarin (Traditional and Simplified), Punjabi and Farsi.


Poor

Key policy recommendations include:


Better

The main policy recommendations are:


Poor

Screening mammograms are considered the international gold standard for detecting breast cancer early.


Better

Screening mammograms have been proven to detect breast cancer early.


 

Don’t use strings of nouns as adjectives, or use several adjectives in a row.


Readers have trouble picking out the important word in a phrase when a string of nouns or several adjectives in a row comes before it. 


Poor

You need a health-care provider’s referral . . .


Better

You need a referral from a health care provider . . .


Poor

Our province-wide collaborative laboratory network provides services . . . 


Better

Our laboratory network provides services collaboratively across the province . . .


Making constructions parallel means being consistent in your grammatical approach. 


Poor

  • Unit clerk
  • Patient and family counselling services
  • Volunteers

Better

  • Unit clerks
  • Patient and family counsellors
  • Volunteers

Poor

Volunteers enhance the quality of care for patients and complementing the role of the staff . . .


Better

Volunteers enhance the quality of care for patients and complement the role of the staff . . . 


Poor
Unit clerk

The unit clerk supports the operation of . . .

They efficiently and accurately transcribe physician orders . . .

Unit clerk: Liasing with other departments and agencies . . .  


Better
Unit clerks

Unit clerks support the operation of . . .

They efficiently and accurately transcribe physician orders . . .

Unit clerks liaise with other departments and agencies . . .  


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Respiratory therapists 

Respiratory therapists are responsible for administering diagnostic lung function tests and of procedures to restore optimal use of your lungs.


Volunteers

Volunteers at the BC Cancer Agency are here to help support the experience of patients and family members during their cancer journey.


Better

Respiratory therapists 

Respiratory therapists administer diagnostic lung function tests and conduct procedures to restore optimal use of your lungs.


Volunteers

Volunteers at the BC Cancer Agency support the experience of patients and family members during their cancer journey.

 


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