1. Why is plain language important in your field/work?
My consulting includes consent forms for clinical trials, health information, health privacy notices, consumer contracts, government communications, etc. Plain language is important because US federal regulations and international ethical guidelines require patients and prospective human subjects to be able to understand complex health information before they make decisions that sometimes can be a matter of life and death. Plus, plain language is essential for consumers to understand and act on their state's regulations and appeal processes. For me, plain language is ethical language.
2. What is your presentation focus, and what are some of the key points participants will learn?
My presentation focus is to acknowledge and describe how and why writing and reading plain language are brain activities. Participants will learn that cognitive abilities such as reading, remembering, thinking and deciding are brain-based activities. Even so, our brains make decisions based not just on "reading comprehension," but on two thinking systems (logic and emotion), as well as our intuition, use of heuristics and framing, the law of least effort and information overload.
3. What advice do you have for someone new to plain language?
Plain language requires two people: the writer and the reader. There is no shortage of information on why and how writers should develop a plain language writing style. But before you assume that plain language writing skills are enough, take some time to learn about how your readers’ brains read, process and remember what you write. For example, no matter how plain your writing style, readers will have comprehension problems if they are sick, if they’ve had brain damage from accidents, injuries or strokes, if they’re going through menopause, if they have an aging brain, etc. Writing and understanding plain language really is a neurobiological process.
Mark Hochhauser, Ph.D.
Readability Consultant/IRB Member
Editor: Tanya Trusler