Commit to using plain language in the new year

Have you wondered how to improve the documents and forms your department shares with research participants and patients? Plain language is one of the best tools to ensure your writing is clear and accessible to all. Research shows it can increase research participation, improve adherence, and overall, lead to better health outcomes.  A few of the basic principles include:  

  • Explaining unfamiliar terms and concepts 
  • Replacing complex words with simple words 
  • Organizing text with headings and subheadings 
  • Writing in active voice  
  • Using a conversational tone and style  

There are many resources to get you started in your plain language journey. Here are a few of our favorites:   

  1. The Federal Plain Language Guidelines – If plain language is new to you, this is an excellent place to start. Read about the federal guidelines and see examples of plain writing in action. The site also includes a checklist you can use when reviewing materials.  
  2. University of Michigan’s Plain Language Medical Dictionary – Search for common medical terms and alternative ways to explain them.  
  3. Multi-Regional Clinical Trials Research Glossary – Search for common clinical trial terms and find alternative ways to explain them. This website also includes links to other plain language glossaries you might find helpful in your work.  
  4. Health Literacy Online – This guide from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion provides writing tips specific to website content.  
  5. Becker Library’s Plain Language Review Service – Need an expert to edit and review your documents? Becker Library provides free document review and training for the School of Medicine community. Contact Mychal Voorhees at for more information.  

Plain language is an important tool to improve the readability, clarity and accessibility of your writing. This year, commit to using plain language as a way to better serve your research participants and patients.