By Rebecca Sims
More health care companies are making clear content a top priority. Whether you call it plain language, a health literacy initiative or quietly aim for a 6th to 8th grade reading level, there are many benefits to writing clear content.
Easy-to-read content helps improve:
- the user experience (regardless of one’s reading level)
- population health
- health care costs
- brand trust
How does plain language help readers?
Easy-to-read content helps busy people find what they need — fast. It also helps readers who feel nervous or worried, which takes a toll on comprehension. It adds up to a better user experience and builds trust in your brand.
There are tangible benefits to clear content, too. When your content is easy to read, it’s more accessible to more people. That helps improve health and lower health care costs. The fact is, too many Americans don’t understand health care. And that’s associated with costly problems, including:
- Lack of preventive care
- Poorly managed chronic conditions
- Preventable hospital visits and rehospitalization
- Emergency room visits that aren’t needed
When done well, nearly anyone can understand your content without feeling talked down to, including those most at risk, such as:
- Folks who struggle with literacy
- People who speak English as a second language
- Older readers (as in people over age 45)
- Anyone who has trouble reading on a screen
How do you do plain language well?
Plain language should not read like it’s “dumbed down,” nor sound stiff or unprofessional. Quite the opposite, it can be smart and punchy. Here are five plain language resources to help you be perfectly clear.
Think like Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway’s prose was plain, clear and anything but boring. He weeded out extra words (what he called “scrollwork”) to keep readers moving. The Hemingway Editor is an online and desktop app that checks your reading level and shows you where to improve. It highlights:
- passive voice
- hard-to-read sentences
- places where you can use simpler words
Check readability while you work or on a live page
Readable.com is another online tool you can use to check readability with different scores and indexes. It has a free version and a paid, “pro” version with a few more features. The free tool shows you:
- Flesch-Kincaid grade level
- Gunning Fox grade level
- sentences with more than 30 syllables
- words with more than four syllables
- adverb count
- cliché count
You can copy content into the tool or check a live URL.
Use this guide from health.gov
Health Literacy Online shows you how to simplify the user experience through writing, design and navigation.
Find easy-to-read advice and tools from MedlinePlus
This site gathers advice, tools and resources in one place to help you improve content readability. It includes guidance on fonts, column widths and other visual elements that boost accessibility.
Take free plain language training to keep improving
Share these tools and resources with skeptics to show them how clean, clear content can help patients, revive your brand, and lead to better health outcomes.
P.S. This blog reads at a grade 7 level per the Hemingway Editor.
Clear content experts
The WriterGirl team understands the language of health care and and knows how to translate it into content that speaks to your specific audience, so you can be a powerful resource for your patients. Drop us a line if you want to learn more.
Editor’s note: This post was updated in July 2019. It was originally published in October 2016.