Use plain English instead of jargon

Reading time: About 1.5 minutes

Can plain English be good enough for a medical article? You bet it can!

Full disclosure: When my children were young, Dr. Alisa Lipson was their pediatrician. While I don’t know her beyond those brief interactions, I always found her to be cheerful, smart, sympathetic and, most amazingly, on time. (There’s little I dislike more than waiting in a doctor’s office.)

Partly for work reasons, partly because I’m interested in health and largely because I’ll read anything put in front of me, I scan through a fair number of medical journals or articles each year. I find many of them hard to read.

Yesterday, however, I stumbled across an article written by our former pediatrician. Headlined “Early Diagnosis of Autism,” it appeared in an online publication titled This Changed My Practice. It’s published by the medical school at the University of British Columbia.

I know a number of kids on the autism spectrum so I read the piece with interest. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I could understand every word. I’m not a medical doctor. In fact, I might even be allergic to math and science. But I had no difficulty understanding this piece. And, in fact, if you waved a magic wand and turned me into a doctor, I’d now know exactly what to do if faced with a child who might be autistic.

Professionals such as engineers, doctors and lawyers often use jargon or technical language when they’re writing. It gives them a shortcut for communicating with others who’ve been similarly trained. But here’s the deal: If anyone else is going to read the document, this jargon is going to exclude them.

Furthermore, being too technical might even exclude some of those who know the ropes. This is because we are all so busy these days and have so much text thrown at us that we have to read very quickly — more like skim, than read. Writing in plain English helps everyone, even the experts.

I ran Dr. Lipson’s piece through the Hemingway App and it earned a grade 10. Woo hoo! I’ve never before found anything written by a doctor that hit less than grade 15. And the sad news is that most of them are pleased with this result.

This simple, easy-to-read article truly underscores the value of Plain English.

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