Glossaries and Thesauri

Here we’ve compiled several links to online glossaries with thousands of medical and scientific terms explained in lay, simplified language that can be used to improve general understanding and the community’s Health Literacy.



Guidelines and Framework

A quick list to write materials in Plain Lay Language

Writing text in Lay Language requires specific structure and rules. Here we provide you helpful tips and online resources. You can use this checklist to see if your document meets plain language standards.

What words to use

  • Identify who your readers are; who’s the main target of your work?
  • Write for the average reader using common, everyday words, but avoid slang;
  • Use a conversational tone instead of a more formal, bureaucratic one;
  • Avoid undefined technical terms;
  • Use personal pronouns such as "you";
  • Use positive rather than negative words;
  • Avoid long strings of nouns;
  • Use “must” to express requirements instead of the ambiguous word “shall”;


  • Use the active voice; check easy explanation of active versus passive voice here
  • Use action verbs;
  • Use the simplest tense possible, simple present is best.

Structure and display

  • Be direct, omit unnecessary details and avoid excess words;
  • Start your text with an introduction and a table of contents to help readers understand how its organized;
  • Use headings to guide readers; the question-and-answer format is very helpful and you can organize information to answer these questions;
  • Use short paragraphs and sentences (average 15-20 words), each paragraph should have only one topic. Provide space between sections;
  • Use transitions to connect ideas, sentences and paragraphs;
  • Limit the number of fonts you use, one for headings and another for text; 
  • Use images, tables and schemes to make complex information more understandable;
  • Use bullets, bold and italics to emphasize information.

Evaluate your work before publishing

  • Check if your text is useful and usable for lay readers;
  • Check your punctuation, grammar, words choices and spelling;
  • Check if your document visually appealing?
  • Have someone read your document and offer suggestions;
  • Ask readers to describe who and what the site/document is directed towards;
  • Ask readers to describe key concepts by their own words;
  • Note what readers misunderstand and rewrite those parts of the site/document



You can use these trusted guidelines to help you produce Lay language content

  • The Federal Plain Language Guidelines by the Plain language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) available here
  • is a great on-line tool with many resources on how to enhance communication and information sharing in a lay context and a source for web designers to learn how to make websites more usable, useful, and accessible
  • Also, MedlinePlus offers guidelines and resources to help you create easy-to-read health materials
  • The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) developed guidelines available here
  • The Plain English Campaign is a useful webpage filled with different kinds of resources directed to the production of plain language text
  • Check out the World Health Organization’s presentation about Strategic Communications Framework at a glance.
  • Health Literacy Online - A Guide for Simplifying the User Experience. A step-by-step guide for designing and creating health websites according to user-centred design principles. It will help you write for health and behaviour change in a way that really gets results. 



If you’d like a printable document with a lay language checklist check out: 




Readability Calculators

If you want to get a first evaluation of your document’s readability in Lay Language you should try these on-line plain language readability calculators:

To learn more about readability in Health Communication check out these pages:

  • Rethinking Readability Scores: Part 1
  • Readability and Plain Language and Health Literacy — Oh My!
  • Rethinking Readability Scores: Part 2


Further readings


More about Health Literacy & Rare Diseases

Health Literacy is an even bigger challenge in the subject of Rare Diseases. Smaller occurring rates result in less information about rare diseases, the public is less familiarized and aware towards them and documentation, which is naturally fewer, is hard to find. These factor combined make it harder for patients, families and doctors to get accurate information regarding how to find a proper diagnosis, care, treatment, and support from patient groups, advocates and professionals. 

Organizations to check out

Your D.I.Y. Health Literacy Crash Course

As you’ve seen, Health Literacy is an essential part of Healthcare, Research and People’s lives. Since Health Literacy can be a rather complex subject, we’ve developed a resource collection for you to take your own small “Health Literacy crash course” right here at our website! 
Just visit the pages linked bellow and have fun learning all about Health Literacy!

Health Literacy 101 is a very interesting and informative talk by the Institute of Healthcare Advancement with an extensive introduction to the Health Literacy subject

This poster has a Health Literate Care Model, brought to you by, which paints a general idea of what Health Literacy is all about, it’s like a visual abstract

This Guide for Simplifying the User Experience is a research-based guide made to help you develop intuitive health websites and digital tools that can be easily accessed and understood by all users who struggle to find, process, and use online health information.

With a new insight on Health Literacy, you’ll now need the proper tools to start developing your work, check out the Boston University Health Literacy Tool Shed,a fantastic database of health literacy measures

This webpage from the University of North Carolina it’s like a summary of all things Health Literacy, it contains videos, tutorials, guides, presentations and toolkits for you to further develop your health literacy skills, enjoy!


Health Literacy Events

Throughout the year and all over the globe there are several groups putting together events about Health Literacy, you can check this page to find out all about up-coming events 

Health Literacy Month

Did you know that October is the Health Literacy Month? Check it out, right here!

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Page modified at Sunday, May 9, 2021 - 09:07