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Tufts Health Communication » Health Literacy » Plain Language for Health: A Writing and Design Workshop

Plain Language for Health: A Writing and Design Workshop

PLHPublic health professionals, librarians, clinicians, health writers, and others who communicate health information filled room 507 in the Sackler Center for Medical Education over the Thursday and Friday before spring break for the Plain Language for Health workshop. Stacy Robison and Xanthi Scrimgeour, co-founders of CommunicateHealth, an award winning communications firm specializing in health behavior change, facilitated two content and activities packed days of training about clear communication.

The workshop also featured two Public Health and Community Medicine (PHCM), Health Communcation (HCOM) faculty members. Assistant Professor Sabrina Kurtz-Rossi, Director of the Tufts Health Literacy Leadership Institute, introduced the ten attributes of Health Literate Health Care Organizations as defined by the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Literacy, emphasizing the needed attribute to develop and use materials that are easy to read and act on. Adjunct Professor, Alia Bucciarelli, recently published Alzheimer’s Disease, a plain language reference book for caregivers, friends, and family on frequently asked questions about the illness spoke about the importance of incorporating emotion, empathy, and storytelling into health writing.

The interactive workshop covered strategies for making print and online health materials easier to understand and using visuals to communicate your message (see Five Strategies for Making Materials Easier to Read below).

Participants had frequent opportunities for hands-on practice, to engage with sample materials, and to work on their own materials development projects.  A networking reception on the top floor of the Dental School with a book signing by Ms. Bucciarelli gave participants a chance to unwind and connect with faculty and each other.

The workshop, co-sponsored by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine – New England Region, CommunicateHealth, and Tufts University School of Medicine Health Literacy Leadership Institute, Health Communication Program, and Hirsh Health Sciences Library, sought to grow plain language efforts within organizations. About half of the attendees comprised organizational teams to bring what they learned back to their organization and advocate for patient-centered materials. Participants took away tips and techniques on applying plain language writing and design principles to health materials, websites, apps and infographics. Above all, presenters showed attendees how plain language and patient involvement in materials development makes a difference for patient health.

Five Strategies for Making Materials Easier to Read

  1. Make your point. Begin with the key message that you want your audience to take away from your writing.
  1. Ditch the jargon. Use clear, simple and common words that your audience will understand. Avoid abbreviation.
  1. Break it into chunks. Separate your writing into small, readable bits. Use subtitles or headers to help organize information.
  1. Use the active voice. “Get your flu shot” is easier to read than “Flu shots should be gotten by kids.”
  1. Write like you talk. Use a conversational tone. It’s okay to use weekend language if it makes your message easier to understand.


Filed under: Health Literacy

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