Are you communicating with clients or the public about COVID-19? As a plain language consultant, I would like to share a couple considerations with you:
1. The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis and a trauma for all of us in varying degrees. Experts know that in times of trauma, people have a reduction in their ability to process information. This is true, no matter what your educational level is.
2. A large portion of the U. S. population have lower reading skills. In fact, 36 million adults have less than a 5th grade reading level. Many of these people live below or near the poverty line. They will likely bear the brunt of this crisis, both economically and healthwise.
So, what to do? I have a few tips:
1. Work to convey a warm tone that expresses that “We will all get through this together.” People need to hear that you care about them and are committed to helping them through this crisis.
2. Think about the questions that your audience has. And answer their questions. A question and answer format works well. Leave out information that your audience does not need or want. (I could write long, pedantic articles on the points I shared above, but those would likely not interest you right now.)
3. While a standard recommendation is to write at a 6th to 8th grade reading level, I encourage you to aim for a 4th to 5th grade reading level if possible. For the reasons I listed above, people need clear, easy-to-digest information without jargon! For example, rather than writing, “Nonessential services are suspended indefinitely,” you could write, “We will stop less critical services for now. We will start them again when it is safe to do so.”
In this time, please don’t think of plain language as a “nice to have” but as a “must have.” If you want to learn more, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://centerforplainlanguage.org/ and https://plainlanguage.gov/