Use plain language to make your content easy to read and understand.

Plain language is communication your audience can understand the first time they read it. Written material is in plain language if your audience can:

  • Find what they need
  • Understand what they find
  • Use what they find to meet their needs

The elements of plain language are:

  • Logical organization
  • Active voice
  • Common, everyday words
  • Short sentences
  • Use of “you” and other pronouns
  • Use of short lists and simple tables
  • Pictures and graphics relevant to the message, and showing correct behaviors
  • Easy-to-read design

Plain language is not “dumbed down.” But it does substitute words with fewer syllables for many of the longer ones that medical professionals use.

Word substitution list

Use the word substitution list below or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Everyday Words for Public Health Communication to find accurate, simple options for common healthcare terms.

abdomen stomach area
absence of no
accompany go with
additional more
administer give
admission come to the hospital
adolescent teen
adverse (reaction) bad
advise tell, recommend
anticipate expect
apply put on, use
appointment visit
approximately about
assist help
bacteria/virus germ
benefit help
benign not cancer
catheter tube
complete fill out
complications problems
conclude end
condition problem
congestion stuffy nose/chest
consent accept/permit
contact call
cooperate help
decrease make less, reduce
defect problem
deficiency lack
demonstrate show, prove
desire want
determine find out
diet food
difficulties problems, trouble
dilate open, stretch
discharge go home
disclose show
discoloration change in color
discomfort pain
disconnect undo
discontinue stop
discovered found
distention stretching
dressing bandage
effect make
elect choose
elevate raise, lift
embolism lump of blood, clot
encourage urge
ensure make sure
essential important
exhibit show
experience have
facilitate help
fluids liquids
for further instructions to find out what to do next
forward send
frequently often
function work
furthermore also
has the capability can
health care professional doctor, nurse, dietician or therapist
highly contagious easily caught
however but
identical same
illustration picture, drawing
implement carry out, do
in addition also
in an effort to to
in lieu of instead of
in the event that if
in the near future soon
inception start
incision cut
indicate show
inflammation swelling (and redness)
inform tell
initial first
initiate start
injection shot
insert put into
insufficient not enough
intravenous line thin tube into a vein
laceration cut, tear
legislation law
let you know tell you
limited number few
locate find
location place
lower/upper extremities legs/arms
maintain keep, support
malformation not formed in correct/right way
medication medicine
method way
modify change
monitor check, watch
negative no
notify tell
numerous many, most
nutrition food, diet, how you eat
observe see,note
obtain get
offer give
opportunity chance
oral by mouth
participate take part in
permit let
pharmacy drugstore
physician doctor
possibility chance
presently now
prior to before
prescribed ordered
procedure test/surgery
promote help
provide give
provided that if
purchase buy
recommended a good idea, advised, suggested
relating to about, on
registration sign up
remove take out
request ask
require need
residence home
resume start again
retain keep
review check, go over
routinely usually
ruptured burst
saturate soak
secretions mucous
sensation feeling
stool bowel movement
submit send
subsequent later, next
substituted used in place of, instead of
sufficient enough
terminate stop, end or finish
terminology words
the baby your baby
therefore so
transmit send
transports carries
urgent cannot wait long
utilization use (noun)
utilize use (verb)
varicella chicken pox
viable workable
whereas since
your doctor your child’s doctor
Source: Patient and Family Education Materials Development Kit, 2005 Edition