The readability of health information is important. It has been a topic of heightened discussion. Especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll delve into why this is. Further, why Pfizer has decided to use plain language materials. 

Readability and COVID-19 

Readability work has accelerated recently because of misinformation. Fake news is shareable on social media. This is because it is highly readable. Bad science is expressed in such a way that it’s convincing. It seems to make a logical argument. 

Some have argued that:

‘Trying to deliver all information to the general audience may lead to misinterpretation, misjudgment, and misunderstanding’. (Source)

Others have directly countered that:

‘Intentionally avoiding the simplification of text rather than creating the most understandable materials possible is discriminatory. This is highlighted by the PLAIN language movement.’ (Source)

There is a way to tackle fake news. Write readable summaries of studies. This makes it easier to digest. It’s also more shareable. This way, we’ll see more good science being shared on social media. 

As we have mentioned in our article of our own: (Source

‘Organizations need to help the public make informed health decisions. Good readability helps with comprehension. Being well-informed means being more involved in your own care.’

Pfizer and readability

Pfizer have upped their plain language efforts. They said the following:

‘At Pfizer, we know that many people actively seek the latest scientific developments related to medicines. Clinical data, however, can be complex and often difficult to understand if you are not a scientist. To help interested non-scientists better understand the latest research, we are developing summaries in plain language for research results presented at medical conferences.’ (Source)

They teamed with health literacy experts at Northwestern University. This partnership shows their commitment to accessibility. It led to them developing a set of best practices. This includes:

  • Using everyday language
  • Short words, sentences and paragraphs
  • Single column only
  • Active rather than passive voice
  • Conversational tone
  • Infographics
  • Summarising the main finding in the title
  • Defining unfamiliar terms
  • Avoiding acronyms and jargon
  • Consulting with patients and laypersons (Source)

Pfizer now have an online portal which is open to the public. According to Fierce Pharma:

‘It will disclose all trial results using plain language summaries. Pfizer and other drugmakers are stepping up. This is thanks to a European Medicines Agency (EMA) regulation. It will require all companies to summarize trial results using plain language. Beginning next year.’ (Source)

Another reason for Pfizer’s effort is because the public demands it. It referenced a 3M worldwide poll. This showed 88 percent of respondents believe scientists should talk in simple English. Good readability for health literacy is here to stay.

Laura Kelly

Laura is a freelance writer and worked at Readable for a number of years. Laura is well-versed in optimising content for readability and Readable's suite of tools. She aims to write guides that help you make the most out of Readable.