Complex issues, but a simple approach

Written by Vicky Burman on . Posted in Effective communication, Language

2017 was not a great year for good communication, says the Plain English Campaign. It bemoans a global drop in standards, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg calling a reliance on foodbanks “rather uplifting”, which won him its Foot in Mouth Award.

But looking at the campaign’s more desirable awards, there are positive signs that information aimed at some of society’s most vulnerable people is being communicated more simply and clearly. And as a result individuals are not only better informed, they are better protected and reassured.

Simple is not the same as superficial. Just because something is written in a straightforward way, this doesn’t mean it can’t address complex and sensitive issues. And it certainly should not be patronising.

For instance, the Children’s Commissioner for England produced child-friendly guides to Facebook terms and conditions to help young social media users understand their digital rights and what they’re signing up to.

And the Independent Age charity won an award for its Coping with bereavement and Scamwise advice guides.

These are challenging topics to write about. People seeking information on bereavement are likely to be a state of shock and loss, anxious, lonely and fearful. The content needs to hit the right note, recognising their feelings while providing practical advice.

One way Coping with bereavement deals with this is by including the contributions of real people, using direct quotes on their personal experiences. This supports the guide’s overall message that everyone deals with loss differently, but the reader is not alone.

Similarly, it’s important to find the words to alert older people to the risk of fraud, and explain how they can avoid being a victim of scams, without scaring them. Scamwise uses practical language and a simple structure, like Do and Don’t lists for different types of scam, to get the most important points across.

Independent Age’s chief executive says making the charity’s public information accessible and useful to older people and their families is a priority, as is producing guides that make “complicated issues easy to understand”.

The impact can be considerable – and well worth the effort of writing and rewriting content, inviting comments and contributions, and testing draft versions with the target audience.

Leading by example

Written by Vicky Burman on . Posted in Language, Talking care

Great to hear that NHS leaders are being encouraged to think about how they describe what their organisations offer and the people this is for. In her blog The language of leadership: Small words that make a difference, Jules Acton, director of engagement and membership at National Voices, gives an insight into discussions about terminology that occurred during the design of new NHS Leadership Academy professional development programmes.

As she points out, there is no perfect word to fit all occasions – just referring to people, care or services can be overly generic at times. But challenging the use of some common terms – like ‘hard to reach’ or even ‘patient’ – has to be a good thing, especially when this comes from the very top, or from those who have a particularly strong influence within an organisation.

Mind your language

Written by Vicky Burman on . Posted in Language, Talking care

As the wife of a man diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 51 pointed out at a recent seminar, “care is care is care…” She looked after her husband for many years, battling to provide him with the best quality of life possible. What made her task particularly difficult was the lack of communication between the many professionals and organisations involved at different stages as his dementia progressed. Constantly having to retell his story and make both their wishes known was tiring; what was worse was when his individual needs – even when made clear – were ignored and he was ‘forced’ into services that were not only inappropriate but did more harm than good.

Her point is that it’s only people working in health and social care – and its many sub-sectors – who really differentiate between them. For the person on the receiving end, it’s their experience of care that matters, not how it’s labelled.