How to Use Plain English in Health and Social Care

How to Use Plain English in Health and Social Care


Care Learning

3 mins READ

Using plain English in health and social care is important. It ensures that everyone understands the information they receive. This includes patients, family members, carers, and professionals.

What is Plain English?

Plain English means using simple words and sentences. It avoids jargon and complex terms. The goal is to make information clear and easy to understand.

Why is Plain English Important?

Plain English helps people make informed decisions. It reduces misunderstandings and confusion. It ensures that everyone can access and understand important information.

Guidelines for Using Plain English

Use Simple Words

Choose words that everyone knows. Avoid medical jargon or technical terms. For example, say “high blood pressure” instead of “hypertension”.

Short Sentences

Keep sentences short and to the point. Aim for 15-20 words per sentence. This makes the information easier to read and understand.

Be Direct

Direct language is clear and unambiguous. Tell the reader exactly what they need to know. For example, say “take one pill every day” instead of “dosage should be administered daily”.

Active Voice

Use the active voice instead of the passive voice. The active voice makes your message clearer. For example, “The doctor will see you now” is clearer than “You will be seen by the doctor now”.

Avoid Unnecessary Words

Do not use more words than necessary. Extra words can make sentences harder to understand. For example, “You need to attend the appointment” is clearer than “It is necessary for you to attend the scheduled appointment”.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Technical Jargon

Health and social care often involve technical terms. Avoid these when speaking to patients and the public. If you must use them, explain what they mean. For example, if you have to say “informed consent”, explain it as “agreeing to treatment after understanding all the information”.

Long Sentences

Long sentences can be confusing. Break them into shorter sentences. Use full stops instead of commas. This helps to keep each idea separate and clear.

Avoiding Plain Language

Sometimes people avoid plain language to sound more professional. This can make information harder to understand. Always choose clarity over formality. Your goal is to communicate, not to impress.

Examples of Plain English in Health and Social Care

Explaining Treatment Options

Instead of: “The patient is advised to commence a course of antibiotics.”

Say: “You should start taking antibiotics.”

Giving Instructions

Instead of: “It is recommended that the medication be taken twice daily.”

Say: “Take the medicine twice a day.”

Discussing Symptoms

Instead of: “Do you experience any dyspeptic symptoms?”

Say: “Do you have any problems with indigestion?”

Providing Test Results

Instead of: “Your blood test results indicate hyperglycaemia.”

Say: “Your blood sugar levels are high.”

Using Visual Aids

Visual aids can help explain information. Diagrams, charts, and pictures can make complex information clearer. Use colour and labels to highlight key points.

Check Understanding

Check that the person has understood the information. Ask them to repeat it back to you. This ensures they have grasped the main points.

Training and Resources

Staff Training

Train staff in plain English principles. Run workshops and provide materials. Practice is key. Everyone should know how to communicate clearly.


Provide easy-to-read leaflets, booklets, and online resources. Use plain English in all written materials. Review and update these regularly.


Provide a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section. This helps to clarify common queries. Use simple Q&A format. For example:

Q: “What should I do if I miss a dose?”

A: “Take it as soon as you remember. If it’s almost time for your next dose, skip the missed one. Do not take two doses at the same time.”


Encourage feedback on how clear the information is. Use this to make improvements. Ask questions like “Was the information easy to understand?”


Using plain English in health and social care helps everyone. It makes information accessible and understandable. Follow these guidelines to improve communication.

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