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Is Your Copy TRULY "Understandable"?

by Wendy J. Meyeroff

A colleague who's a brilliant editor in health and sciences once proudly linked our chat group to examples of how she modified a variety of clinical materials from a professional association into lay language. I wrote back that when I imagine what she had to work with originally, she's done great work. still leads to a question. Is this really "understandable" thanks to the changes? It may be clear among members of the group that hired her, but what about others?

Consider this wording right at the beginning of the first article I opened:

"the idea that dreaming simulates the waking perceptual world has become widely accepted among dream scientists. The spatial and temporal organization..."

Simulates? Perceptual? Spatial? Temporal?

What do these words mean if their market is not at least at a 10th-grade reading level? LinkedIn (where she posted access back to the articles) doesn't just go to the upper echelon. And even if one is very well-educated, is the education in health/science? If they're accountants, will they understand this? Besides, is it going to interest the average person immediately? Not according to a seminar on "storytelling" that the NIH held for making PowerPoint presentations, or even journal articles, truly exciting.

This is almost exactly the lingo I saw when a major drug company started one of the first "patient ed" websites over 20 years ago. It was sad not to be able to bring down upper-tier lingo to average patients back then, but many leaders haven't advanced much better now. 

In 2019 I served as the interim Communications Director of the Center for Plain Language (CPL), a non-profit that keeps trying to get leaders in healthcare, law, tech, gov't, and other areas to truly understand the many levels of "plain" language interpretation there must be. At it's annual meeting, they give awards for campaigns truly great at using plain language.

CPL recognizes that it's one thing to write insights for a CEO. It's quite another to supply info to children or to folks for whom English is their second language. So I'd have to check, but I don't think stories with words like those highlighted above would be accepted in the Center's awards entries for plain language achievements.

For even greater understanding, see examples of plain language on the Center's website (including info on the just-presented ClearMark awards) and some of my other work here for Consumers. ###

For a free 15-minute phone consult, contact Wendy Meyeroff at Put "Let's chat" in your Subject line please. You can also be added to our free newsletter!

Perceptual? Spatial? With words like that, how understandable are your marketing materials?

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