Science publications are typically written by scientists and for scientists, yet the audience for science is far wider, especially any reporting on medical breakthroughs in treatments of serious diseases.

While plain-language summaries of articles and abstracts are increasingly available, the story is more complicated than plain. In June, ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, based in Geneva, issued principles and guidelines for plain language.

Creating effective plain-language summaries requires looking beyond the language, says Dr. Catherine Richards Golini, a healthcare publications editor at Karger Publishers. She advises editors and scientists to acquire an understanding of health literacy in the general population and an appreciation of patient preferences.

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“Health literacy is about our ability to understand healthcare information, to evaluate it. Is it reliable? Is it trustworthy?” Dr. Golini tells me.

“Health literacy is about being able to communicate effectively with healthcare providers – asking the right questions, understanding the responses we get back, expressing concern or worry, this kind of thing, and to express our preferences,” she continues.

“I think health literacy is also about being able to act on the information that we’re given or that we read or that we hear to make informed decisions about our healthcare and the healthcare of the people that we’re responsible for – our loved ones, our children, etc.”


Author: Christopher Kenneally

Christopher Kenneally hosts CCC's Velocity of Content podcast series, which debuted in 2006 and is the longest continuously running podcast covering the publishing industry. As CCC's Senior Director, Marketing, he is responsible for organizing and hosting programs that address the business needs of all stakeholders in publishing and research. His reporting has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, The Independent (London), WBUR-FM, NPR, and WGBH-TV.
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