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Claire Foley & Tracy Torchetti - Editing Health Information for a Limited English Audience: Going Beyond Plain Language

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Presented by Claire Foley, MA, & Tracy Torchetti, MA, on March 12, 2015 at the fifth Center for Health Literacy Conference: Plain Talk in Complex Times.

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Claire Foley & Tracy Torchetti - Editing Health Information for a Limited English Audience: Going Beyond Plain Language

  1. 1. Editing health information for a limited English audience: Going beyond plain language 8:15-10 a.m. March 12, 2015 Tracy Torchetti and Claire Foley Plain Talk, Communicating in a small world Arlington, VA
  2. 2. Agenda • Introduction • Health literacy • Plain language • English as a second language • Health info best practices • Conclusion
  3. 3. What is health literacy? From the Canadian Cancer Society: • a person’s ability to find, understand, evaluate, use and communicate health-related information • a healthcare professional’s ability to communicate health-related information • a person’s ability to read nutrition labels, interpret prescriptions and follow self-care instructions
  4. 4. Canadian literacy statistics • 42% of adult Canadians have low literacy skills. • More than 15 million Canadian adults will have low literacy skills by 2031, up 25% from 2001.
  5. 5. Canadian diversity • 17% of the Canadian population are immigrants. • 32% of Canadians don’t have English as a first language.
  6. 6. Factors affecting literacy • reading on small laptops, tablets, cell phones • multi-tasking • visual ability • age • stress • cognitive ability
  7. 7. Plain language
  8. 8. What is plain language? • the art and science of writing clearly • clear organization and layout • reader-centred writing and design
  9. 9. Writing techniques • Use the active voice. • Write directly to your reader. • Use a positive tone wherever possible. • Use short words and simple sentences. • Use common words instead of jargon. • Use lists.
  10. 10. Formatting and style • Watch alignment. • Use lots of white space and short paragraphs. • Keep lines of text short. • Use meaningful titles, headings and subheadings. • Use minimal emphasis (bold, all caps, italics, colour). • Choose the right font.
  11. 11. Readability best practices • know your audience • print (average: grade 8) • web (average: grade 6 to 8) • context • subject matter • testing
  12. 12. Readability formulas • SMOG, or Simplified Measure of Gobbledygook • Fry Readability Formula • Gunning-Fog Index • Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level • New Dale–Chall Readability Formula • readability-score.com • specially designed software, such as Readability Calculations, Readability Plus, Readability Studio • checklists, such as SAM (Suitability Assessment of Materials)
  13. 13. What formulas get wrong Examples Dr. Smith said I should call if my child has a temperature of 100.2. The order of words doesn’t matter at all. All at matter doesn’t words of order the.
  14. 14. Benefits of reading formulas • They’re objective and easy to use. • The scores get people’s attention. • They show improvements that result from editing.
  15. 15. Punctuation • Use minimal punctuation. • Good punctuation still matters!
  16. 16. Fussy marks • colon (:) • semicolon (;) • asterisk (*) • ellipsis (…) • footnote symbols
  17. 17. Bulleted lists Before Offer lots of high fibre foods, including: • breads, cereals, pastas and rice made from whole grains; • fruit, especially berries, dried fruit and citrus fruit; and • vegetables, especially broccoli, carrots, corn and leafy greens.
  18. 18. Bulleted lists After Offer lots of high fibre foods, including: • breads, cereals, pastas and rice made from whole grains • fruit, especially berries, dried fruit and citrus fruit • vegetables, especially broccoli, carrots, corn and leafy greens
  19. 19. Contractions
  20. 20. Contractions Some contractions are easier than others. Easier I’m, can’t, don’t, you’re, who’s, what’s, where’s Harder could’ve, will’ve, shouldn’t, isn’t, aren’t, weren’t, doesn’t, didn’t
  21. 21. Parentheses Good You need to take a different drug for your diabetes (starting Monday). Better You need to take a different drug for your diabetes. You start the new drug on Monday.
  22. 22. Numbers Use digits rather than spelling out numbers. • 18 vs. eighteen Spell out units of measure or define them at first mention. • 15 min. • 1000 IU
  23. 23. Numbers Avoid tricky constructions with dates. Before Back x-rays will no longer be covered by OHIP after 09/10/12. After OHIP will not cover back x-rays after September 10, 2012.
  24. 24. Numbers
  25. 25. Numbers Percentages can be hard to understand. • 12% of people have side effects. • 12 in every 100 people have side effects.
  26. 26. Numbers
  27. 27. Numbers Avoid fractions. • 3/8 of your normal dose. • 5-1/4 or 5¼ But… • Half a teaspoon of cough syrup • 5,000 vs. 5.000 vs. 5 000
  28. 28. The ESL perspective • verb tenses • idioms • phrasal verbs
  29. 29. Verb tenses Use more common verb tenses. • Simple present tense You have diabetes. • Present continuous Are you taking medication?
  30. 30. Verb tenses Use more common verb tenses. • Simple future You will go to the hospital tomorrow. You are going to the hospital tomorrow. • Simple past Did you take medication yesterday?
  31. 31. Verb tenses The present works for both present and future situations. Example I take my medication at noon today. I take my new medication tomorrow.
  32. 32. Verb tenses The present works for both present and future situations. Before When you go to the hospital, the doctor will take your blood and will do other tests. After When you go to the hospital, the doctor takes your blood and does other tests.
  33. 33. Verb tenses Use the present instead of present continuous. Before I am taking medication for my heart. After I take medication for my heart every day.
  34. 34. Verb tenses Use will or be going to for the future. Examples I am going to have my procedure at the hospital next week. I will have my procedure at the hospital next week. (I have my procedure at the hospital next week.) .
  35. 35. Verb tenses Use regular verbs in the past. Example I talked to the doctor yesterday. I spoke to the doctor yesterday.
  36. 36. Idioms • Are you feeling under the weather? • You seem on the ball. • This will cost an arm and a leg. • Let’s get the ball rolling! • Keep an eye out for these symptoms.
  37. 37. Phrasal verbs A phrasal verb is a verb followed by a preposition or an adverb. The combination creates a meaning different from the original verb.
  38. 38. Phrasal verbs take over put off work out call off check out cut out cut down on end up rule out figure out go on get over
  39. 39. Exercise
  40. 40. Health info best practices Consider the patient perspective and the context of reading: • cognitive impairment related to stress, anxiety and emotions (situational literacy) • cognitive impairment related to illness • language proficiency in English AND medical jargon
  41. 41. Health info best practices Write in plain language: • clear, straightforward, informative Write in a supportive manner: • positive but realistic • conversational but authoritative tone • tips for readers to learn more
  42. 42. Health info best practices Get experts to review: • direction or scope • accuracy • need to know vs. nice to know If you’re the expert: • Know that you’re not your audience! • Get help from a writer or editor.
  43. 43. Health info best practices • test • revise • repeat
  44. 44. Conclusion • Know your audience. • Apply plain language principles. • Learn more about health literacy. • Think about the second language perspective.
  45. 45. Questions? Claire Foley CFproofreading@hotmail.ca @thecrimpqueen Tracy Torchetti tracy.torchetti@cancer.ca @Torcherama

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