Clear Language

A. Clear Language and Design - CLAD

THCU would like to inform you about a resource for better written communication: Clear Language and Design - CLAD

Sally McBeth, Divisional Manager of CLAD, has a wealth of skills and resources for assisting groups and agencies in making the messages and public materials more than just readable! If you require support or training in making your written messages optimally effective, contact her for advice.

Sally J. McBeth

Clear Language and Design

Toronto, Canada

PHONE: (416)-968-7227 FAX: (416)-968-0597

e-mail: [email protected]

A Sample From CLAD:

Five Great Tips for Making your Message Clear

1. Banish small print! Small print is the number one complaint among seniors and aging baby boomers - especially those crucial instructions on health products.

2. Read it out loud: Try reading your draft out loud to yourself. Do you have to pause for breath in the middle of your sentences? That's a sign that they are too long, and you're making your reader work too hard to get your point.

3. Tell 'em whodunit: Unlike mystery novels, good public information lets the reader know right away who's doing what. Avoid passive constructions like: "This medication is to be taken under the instruction of a physician." Instead say: "Follow your doctor's instructions for taking this medicine."

4. Find the right tone: The best tone for public information is friendly, direct and inclusive. Try writing the way you speak. Address your reader as "you." Watch out for off-putting, officious phrasing such as "it is imperative that" or "at the present moment." Instead, say "you must" and "now."

5. Check jargon at the door: Professionals have good reasons for using specialized language among themselves. But don't forget the facts about your readers: 40% of Canadians have real trouble dealing with everyday written material, let alone specialized, professional language. Show them how much you care about your message by explaining it to them in words they can understand.

PS: The Ten Commandments have 297 words. The US Department of Agriculture directive on pricing cabbage weighs in at 15,629 words! (Source, New York Times)


1. What is Plain Language?

Plain language is a way of organizing and presenting information so that it makes sense to most people. Health information written in plain language helps you get your message across to the greatest number of people.

Plain language starts with a commitment to learn as much as you can about the people you serve. This will help you to develop useful and effective health materials.

Plain language includes consulting with your audience so that your health message is what they want to know and what they need to know.

Plain language also recognizes that testing your health message and materials with a sample audience is the most important step. When they understand your message and can use it, you have been successful.

Easy-to-read health information and simple instructions -- two steps towards good health.

2. Why should you use it?

According to a recent Statistics Canada survey, 42% of Canadians have some degree of difficulty with everyday reading tasks. 43% of Canadians have difficulty reading maps, job applications and tables. A similar number have trouble with arithmetic. In Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, literacy levels are lower than they are in Ontario and Western Canada. 50% of Canadians in both Quebec and the Atlantic provinces have low literacy skills while 40 - 45% of Canadians in Ontario and the Western provinces have low literacy skills.

The survey results show that material that is clear and easy to read can be used by a wider audience. Changing the way we write can make it easier for up to 22% more people to begin to get information from print. If we want to reach the people who say they avoid reading or include people whose first language is not English, we must keep them in mind as we write. Our print material must invite readers to begin reading, and our writing must make it easy for them to get our message.*

*Baldwin, Ruth. Clear Writing and Literacy , Toronto: Ontario Literacy Coalition, 1990.

3. Plain Language Health Information

What Does It Look Like?

To make your written information easy to read:

- Cover only 3 to 5 points and organize the information clearly.

- Use simple graphics and techniques such as point form, bold type and underlining to highlight the most important points.

- Use short words and short sentences.

- Use common words rather than technical jargon.

- Give your client practical information.

Samples of Plain Language Health Information

a) Two plain language health information pamphlets developed by Centretown Community Health Centre and Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada are on the CPHA-NLP web-site for viewing. There are 22 plainly written pamphlets in English and French in the series. For more information, please contact:

Centretown Community Health Centre

340 MacLaren Street Ottawa, Ontario K2P 0M6

Tel: (613) 563-4771 Fax: (613) 563-0163

The two online are:


CHOLESTEROL [fat in the blood]

b) Other plain language health information pamphlets are posted on the website, developed by the University of New England Health Literacy Center. There are 80+ plainly written pamphlets in the series. These are entitled: "Every Body is Made To Move" and "Save Money on Food"

For more information, please contact:

AHEC Health Literacy Center

University of New England

Hills Beach Road

Biddeford, Maine 04005 U.S.A.

Tel: (207) 283-0171 ext. 337


Plain Facts is the Canadian Public Health Association's (CPHA) National Literacy and Health Program's publication on literacy and health. The purpose of Plain Facts is to generate discussion among health professionals about what they can do to better serve clients with low literacy skills. NLHP welcomes stories and anecdotes which make the link between literacy and health.


National Literacy and Health Program

400-1565 Carling Avenue,

Ottawa, ON K1Z 8R1

Telephone: (613) 725-3769 Fax: (613) 725-9826

E-mail address: [email protected]

5. (plain*word)

Play (plain*word)T and rediscover the language we all understand.

(plain*word)T is a word game which can teach you the principles of plain language that help you get your message across the first time. If communication is an important part of your profession or business, (plain*word)T can teach you the principles of plain language that help you get your message across the first time.

It is available for $34.95 & $2.50 shipping (+applicable GST/PST) from:


400-1565 Carling Avenue,

Ottawa, ON K1Z 8R1

Telephone: (613) 725-3769 Fax: (613) 725-9826

C. RESOURCES [selected]

Books (English)

Baldwin, R. "Clear Writing and Literacy", Toronto: Ontario Literacy Coalition, 1990.

Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada "Creating a Plain Language Zone: A Manager's Handbook", Ottawa: Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada, 1991.

National Literacy Secretariat "Plain Language: Clear and Simple", Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1991.

Nore, G. "Clear Lines: How to Compose and Design Clear Language Documents for the Workplace", Toronto: Frontier College Press, 1991.


Breen, M.J. "Writing for your audience: is there a magic formula?", Beta Release, 17(1) 1993, PG 10-16.

Breen, M., Catano, J.W. "How to Write for People With Low Literacy Skills," Healthsharing, 1987.

Catano, J.W., "Who Reads What You Write?", Ability Network, Dec.92/Jan.93, PG 9-11.

Michielutte, R. Bahnson, J., Dignan, M., Shcroeder, E.M. "The use of illustrations and narrative text style to improve readability of a health education brochure," Journal of Cancer Education 7(3) 1992,

PG 251-260.

Plimpton, S., Root, J. "Materials and Strategies That Work in Low Literacy Health Communication", Public Health Reports, 109(1) 1987, PG 86 - 92.

Audio Visual

Frontier College "The Clear Writer's Hit Squad" (Video) & Leader's Guide and Core Materials, Toronto: Frontier College, 1991.