This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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22 July 2011

Good information; good health

I met someone this week who wanted to talk to Write about health literacy — see our blog
Reading and writing for health. She works for a District Health Board (DHB) and knows that people with low literacy often have poorer health.

There’s no shortage of information on every health problem. However, actually using it to improve your health and your family’s health is a complex language task. You have to find the right information, read or hear the words, and understand your illness. Then you have to consider your options, decide how to change your life, set goals and achieve them.

My new friend at the DHB wants people in her region to find it easy to get the health information they need. It’s a challenge, because about 45% of New Zealanders have low literacy, and struggle with the information demands of each day. She can’t change the literacy of the community, but she can encourage the people who produce the brochures and forms to write them clearly and simply.

I’ve sent her two links to websites with statistics and research on literacy in NZ. The first link is to the home page of the international Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey. NZ was one of 12 countries that conducted the survey in 2006.

Education Counts is the research section of the Ministry of Education. They aim to ‘increase the availability and accessibility of information about education statistics and research in New Zealand’. The website is easy to use, and has a range of articles on aspects of literacy, using the results of the survey.

The second link is to the Ministry of Health’s research into Health Literacy and Māori, using the same survey results.

If you write health information for a DHB, try these tips:
  • write short sentences — generally shorter than 20 words
  • give only three main messages — more information is not always better
  • define medical words the first time you use them or use a plain English alternative for a medical word — download our medical ebook
Go to our website for links to more blogs about health literacy

Read about our workshop Writing Health Information Clearly

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