Using plain language definitions can make research materials easier to read and understand.

Complex clinical research terms and procedures can be simplified using health literacy principles. The MRCT Center efforts in this area began in 2019 by working with United Health Group and their Just Plain Clear® editorial workgroup to consider developing a glossary focused on clinical research terms.  Since then, the interest in developing such a glossary has continued to grow.

In Spring 2020, the MRCT Center launched a collaboration with stakeholder representatives (see Figure 1), including patients and participants, to develop a plain language glossary via a small pilot project. The vision of the pilot is to develop definitions and explanations that are in plain language, patient-friendly, and acceptable from an industry standpoint.  A pilot approach of defining a small number of common clinical research terms and procedures is being taken initially in order to more meaningfully define process, effort, and potential utility—and determine whether and how to proceed to a larger initiative.  If you would like to learn more about this pilot, please.

Figure 1: Glossary Workgroup Members By Group

  • Patient/Advocate
  • Non Profit/Academia
  • Medical Writing
  • Life Sciences company
  • Independent Consultant

One of the best ways to ensure clinical research terms and definitions are understandable to the intended audience is to receive input and perform usability testing with people who represent the intended study population.  The definitions and explanations included in the pilot are being developed in partnership with patients, participants and caregivers, and will also be tested via external patient community review before the findings of the pilot are released.

Until the glossary pilot project is complete, please consider using resources that already exist to help support using clearer language in health and medicine, including:health literacy glossary

Don’t forget about your verbs!

Phrasal verbs like “turn in your survey” can be confusing.  What it means to “turn in” is often not clear and may be better stated as “submit” or “return”.  Guidance and appropriate substitutions can be found here.