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Communicating Complexity

Messages dealing with scientific information need to be relevant and comprehensible to the general public. That doesn’t mean that the content needs to be “dumbed down”—it just needs to be easily understood. And it needs to be accessible. As soon as people see unfamiliar jargon, acronyms, or data, they may dismiss the message altogether in favor of something that takes less effort to get through.

Chalkboard with complex thoughts converted to understandable text

Plain Language Strategies

  • Choose common, everyday words. Avoid acronyms and jargon. Example: Which do you think people will understand better, “excessive heat event” or “very hot weather”?
  • Make sure scientific information is relevant to the audience. One way to check is to consider whether it answers the questions “Am I safe?” and “Will it hurt me?”
  • Keep sentences simple and short. Avoid complicated clauses.
  • Use an active voice and make people the subject of the sentence. Example: “Indication of illness includes coughing and chest pain,” could be changed to “If you become sick, you may cough or feel chest pain.”