Writing readable science for a lay audience can be a considerable challenge for scientists. Indeed, they can struggle to write clearly in manuscripts targeted at their fellow scientists! Whether writing for other scientists or a lay audience, the principles of delivering a readable message are similar. But communicating complex ideas to a lay audience requires us scientists to think even harder about our audience: their level of understanding, vocabulary they are comfortable with and the messages we wish them to take home. We need a knowledge of the tactics that improve readability: logical presentation of relevant ideas, clear and simple writing style, good organisation of documents, and attractive and helpful formatting – to include appropriate visual aids when appropriate. Can we measure readability and therefore have quantitative targets against which to benchmark our writing? Are there tools to help us write more readably? We’ll consider examples of both readable and problematic text and aim to appreciate best practice when writing for a lay audience.
Define ‘readability’ and consider what influences readability
Consider the importance of readability
Review ‘best practice’ tactics to improve readability: good sentence construction, familiar words, subheadings, lists, diagrams, ways to communicate numbers and risk, things to avoid and much more…
Consider the best approach to write a lay summary of a given text
Explore quantitative ways to measure readability: readability formulas and statistics
Critically assess the use of readability statistics
Review other tools designed to analyse text and improve readability
Tackle the editing process using a ‘Readability Screening Checklist’
Practical elements of the workshop will include:
Analysis of participants’ own writing using readability statistics
Critique of poorly written material – how readability could be improved
Critique of well-written lay summaries – how readability has been achieved
This workshop is for those of you who want to learn more about readability, particularly when your role involves writing about science for a lay audience. The workshop is relevant to writing a wide range of material: lay summaries of research and of clinical evaluations, technical instructions for equipment use, newsletters, web-based disease awareness articles, medication dosing instructions, hospital discharge summaries, consent forms … and many more. You should have some experience of writing and editing scientific text, but you do not need specialised knowledge.
The workshop is intended to be a ‘two-way’ learning and discussion experience (not a webinar); questions and subsequent discussion are welcome at any time during the workshop
There will be a little preparatory work – a short exercise and some text to read
Lecturer will deliver short presentations and use examples of text for critique
Breakout rooms for smaller groups to consider/discuss the readability of text
Trainer/medical writer and director of Libra Scientific Communications Ltd.
John qualified in medicine having studied at Oxford University and Guy's Hospital, London. Initially, he trained as a surgeon, gaining experience in accident and emergency medicine, orthopaedic, thoracic, general and ENT surgery, and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (otolaryngology) and Edinburgh (general surgery). He then became a GP and Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners having had experience in paediatrics, neonatology, and obstetrics and gynaecology.
Since 2003, John has completed an MBA at Warwick University Business School while working as a Primary Care Trust project manager. He then spent five years as Director of Medical Communications in a UK medical communications agency. In 2013, he became a freelance trainer in scientific writing and medical writer, and is now Director of Libra Scientific Communications Ltd.
Recently, John has coauthored a book: How to Publish in Biomedicine. 500 Tips for Success. Third Edition. 2016. CRC Press. John Dixon, Louise Alder and Jane Fraser.
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