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Alt: Several doodles engage in various activities below the words “WHHL Presents: Hypertension.” One doodle jumping rope says, “I’m more hyper than all you dweebs combined!” Another doing jumping jacks says, “Jumping jacks are the only true hyper activity you hosers!”

When you hear the word tension, what comes to mind? The force of your blood pumping against your artery walls, you say? Well, you might be the only one!

For all our fellow jargon naysayers out there, here’s a new installment of our “use simpler words” series. Today’s target: “hypertension.”

Hypertension is medical jargon for high blood pressure. And while fancy-pants words are always on our chopping block, this one is especially tricky because it contains 2 red herrings for people with limited health literacy: “hyper” and “tension.”

For example, a reasonable person might associate “hyper” with toddlers who just hit the sugar sauce, and “tension” with adults who are feeling a bit, ahem, saucy. And we’re guessing those associations won’t have anyone running for the blood pressure cuff.

Besides the potential for “hypertension” to mislead people, there’s another really good reason not to use it. That’s right, dear readers, it’s one of those jargon terms that has a super straightforward and totally accurate substitute.

So skip phrases like:

  • Hypertension increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Get tested for hypertension regularly.

And go for these easy options instead:

  • High blood pressure increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Get your blood pressure checked regularly.

The bottom line: Don’t send your readers’ blood pressure through the roof—skip “hypertension.”

Tweet about it: Writing about “hypertension”? Let’s not! @CommunicateHlth makes the case for “high blood pressure” in #HealthLit materials: https://bit.ly/2KijSy8

Keep Calm and Stop Saying “Hypertension” was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Alt: A group of Game of Thrones doodles stand huddled around a set of instructions for slaying White Walkers. The instructions have placeholder text, outdated information, a missing image, and the useful information in the wrong spot. A note at the bottom reads, “This is wrong! -Ed.”

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you may have followed the gripping drama of the takeout coffee cup that appeared in a recent episode of the fantasy TV series. And if one anachronistic beverage blunder wasn’t enough, a plastic water bottle made a cameo in the finale!

These kinds of bloopers are all fun and games in a TV show, but out-of-place content in health materials can have real-world consequences. So today we’re sharing tips to keep sneaky unwanted elements out of your health communication products.

Watch out for these common content interlopers:

  • Imposters. You may not be in danger of leaving your morning coffee in your poster copy, but what about leaving in placeholder text? Always clearly mark your placeholders, so you don’t risk publishing imposters instead of real content.
  • Time travelers. Game of Thrones encountered drink containers from the future, but in health content you’re more likely to run into relics from the past. Outdated stats and figures are easy enough to catch. But keep a special eye out for outdated terminology—especially language describing groups of people. Stay informed about preferred terms for different demographics, and update any language that’s past its prime.
  • Trespassers. Identifying bad content is one thing—but what about good content that’s in the wrong place? Content can trespass by addressing the wrong audience, veering off topic, or failing to fit the format. It’s your job to relocate these trespassers to materials where they’ll feel more at home.
  • Space oddities. When lots of different people touch content, absurdities can sneak in along the way. It’s a bit like a game of telephone: writers, editors, designers, developers, and subject matter experts pass content back and forth, and eventually something gets lost (or garbled) in translation. Always make time to reread the final product with fresh eyes to catch things that just don’t belong.

The bottom line: Keep an eye out for interlopers in your health materials—and banish out-of-place content (coffee cups included).

Health Lit Lessons from Game of Thrones: Delete the Coffee Cup was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Alt: A family of doodles is piled on a couch watching a movie. One says, “I wish Dennis Quaid was MY dad.” Another cowers behind a pillow, wondering, “Is this our future?!” A third says, “Now that’s what I call a Statue of Li-brrr-ty…”

Climate change is one of the most important public health issues of our time. And that means we all need to talk about it! But it can be hard to confront problems that seem so hopeless and overwhelming.

So today, we’re broaching this stressful subject from the Hollywood angle. What better way to approach our own real-life disaster scenario than with a blockbuster disaster movie? What better way to confront actual global warming than by watching an imaginary Ice Age rapidly descend on the northern United States? That’s right, dear readers, we’re talking about 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow.

In this pseudoscientific action flick, a rogue paleoclimatologist (Dennis Quaid, burly science dad) begs world leaders to address climate change before it’s too late. Shockingly, they refuse. And the very next day, climate change arrives to rub their noses in it.

Just as Dennis predicted, glacial melt makes the ocean a tad less salty, disrupting currents and triggering an unprecedented storm system (hurricanes forming over land!) that plunges the northern hemisphere into a new Ice Age. Oh, and it all happens in a matter of days.

So will climate change really turn Manhattan into a walk-in freezer in less than a week? No, not really. But the possibility of so-called “abrupt climate change” is science fact, not science fiction. These events, when major climate shifts play out on a scale of years or decades rather than centuries, have happened before. And recent human-caused climate change makes these abrupt events more likely to happen in the future.

The real-world stakes are high—that much is clear. But what can The Day After Tomorrow teach us about climate change and public health?

  • Keep pushing for policy changes. The world leaders in the movie fail to take action before disaster strikes—just as many world leaders today are dragging their heels on climate action. But as the movie shows, delaying tough decisions on climate change leads to far greater political costs—not to mention loss of life—in the future.
  • Be ready for community-level action. When political leaders fail to act, the responsibility to find solutions falls on regular people. In the movie, we see a band of strangers work together to survive in the New York Public Library, burning volumes of tax law to stay warm and scavenging medicine for a girl with an infected wound. Hopefully, you won’t have that particular experience. But we all need to be thinking about local responses to these global problems.
  • Remind decision-makers that we all have skin in the game. The vice president scoffs at Dennis’s plan to abandon the entire northern United States to the ice—until he learns that the climatologist’s own son is in Manhattan. And no matter where you live on planet Earth, your kids will be affected by real-world climate change.
  • Don’t count on Dennis Quaid to save everybody. His son may survive till the end credits, but plenty of other people get frozen solid. So if Dennis Quaid is your dad, maybe he can be your climate emergency plan. The rest of us are going have to save ourselves. And that means talking about these unpleasant problems and working together to find solutions.

The bottom line: Watch The Day After Tomorrow for some truly wild weather—and some serious motivation to confront the impacts of climate change on public health.

Tweet about it: What can disaster flicks teach us about climate change and public health? @CommunicateHlth goes to the movies: https://bit.ly/2Q8gqGi #HealthLit

WHHL Movie Club: The Day After Tomorrow was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Alt: A doodle with baby doodle in tow pinches the cheeks of an older adult doodle, saying “Who’s my faaaaaaavouwit peppep?”—and a bunch of other baby talk babble.

Here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, we value health communication that shows respect for the audience—that goes for written materials and face-to-face conversations. So today, we’re offering tips to help you avoid a communication style that’s the opposite of respectful: elderspeak.

Elderspeak is an all-too-common, patronizing way of speaking to older adults. It uses:

  • Pet names, like “honey” and “sweetie”
  • “We” in place of “you”
  • Loud, slow speech with a high pitch

Imagine you’re at the doctor’s office and your doctor says to you, “Okay now, hun, we’re going to take this medicine twice a day, once when we wake up and once at beddy-bye. And don’t forget we need to drink water with it—right, sweetie?”

Now imagine your doctor says this instead: “Okay, Phyllis. You need to take this medicine 2 times every day with water—once in the morning and once at night. If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.”

We don’t know about you, dear readers, but that second scenario would get a much better response out of us. An adult patient is far more likely to follow advice from a nurse, doctor, or other caregiver who treats them like, well, an adult.

So why all the baby talk? Some caregivers may think elderspeak makes it easier for older adults to understand complicated health information—especially patients who have cognitive disabilities, like dementia or aphasia. But there’s research about nursing home care that suggests otherwise—some studies link the use of elderspeak to resistance to care in older adults with dementia.

So, skip the elderspeak! And use these tips when speaking to older adults:

  • Treat older adults like…adults. Newsflash! (Hardly.) Just because someone is older doesn’t mean they want to be treated like a tiny baby.
  • Use the same tone of voice you would use with any adult. If you’re using the same voice with aging humans that you use with cute little puppies, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Check for understanding. Rather than assuming patients don’t get it, do a “teach back” to make sure you’re on the same page.
  • Match your communication style to the individual, not their age range. Diseases like Alzheimer’s may require special approaches to communication. But not every older adult has cognitive problems, and elderspeak is never the solution.

The bottom line: Skip the elderspeak to show respect—and improve health communication with older adults.

Tweet about it: To respect your elders, skip the elderspeak! Check out @CommunicateHlth’s #HealthLit tips for talking with #OlderAdults: https://bit.ly/2LtL26

Things We Don’t ❤: Elderspeak was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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We’ve written in the past about banishing some words (POBAs, to be specific) from your research reports. Today, we’re continuing the theme of word choice in research writing. Have you ever noticed how qualitative research reports use words that represent quantities—like many, some, several, few—and wondered why the writer didn’t just use a number instead?

Well, dear readers, that’s because the findings of qualitative research are just that—qualitative, not quantitative. Remember, this type of research looks at things like people’s beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. That’s pretty tricky to represent in numbers!

Let’s look at an example. Say you did a study with 8 participants, and you found that half of them understand how to enroll in Medicare. People reading that result may well assume that 50% of the millions of people eligible to enroll in Medicare already understand how to do so—which is definitely not what you’re saying! The numbers in a study like this aren’t representative of the larger population, which is why it’s not a good idea to report them.

Now this isn’t to say numbers are left out of the qualitative research party altogether. They can be super helpful behind the scenes during the analysis process—we can use them to help interpret the meaning of descriptive data, like what participants said or did during a study. But when it comes to reporting qualitative research, numbers generally don’t cut it.

So is it ever appropriate to report numbers in qualitative research reports? Occasionally! For example, you might use numbers to:

  • Emphasize an important outlier viewpoint (“At least 1 participant said they didn’t understand the main message”)
  • Describe the demographics of your study sample (“5 out of 8 participants were female”)
  • Report the number of participants who completed a task during usability testing (“4 participants failed to complete the second task”)

Bottom line: When reporting on qualitative research, use numbers sparingly — and only when they add nuance to your findings.

Tweet about it: Reporting on qualitative findings? @CommunicateHlth has tips for using numbers (or not) to add meaning to #HealthLit research: [link]

The Days of Numbers in Qualitative Research Are… Numbered was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Alt: A designer doodle speaks to a small crowd of overwhelmed doodles. He says, “…So as you can see, I chose a pristinely kerned font family with perfect x-height and expertly applied, staggeringly precise leading and tracking — then meticulously hand-curated artisanal imagery to create an aesthetically pleasing experience for all users with nary a widow or orphan in sight…”

Ever had that moment where you’re talking about a product with a designer and you feel like you’re speaking a different language? Well, that may be because you sort of are! But never fear—we’re here to help you find your way out of design lingo (or limbo).

We ❤ working with designers to create beautiful health literate products here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters. Recently, we talked about how to give designers helpful feedback. Today, we’re digging into some design-related terms that you’re likely to run into if you work with designers on the reg.

There’s a lot of design jargon out there, so we’ll start by breaking down a few of the most common terms related to typography.

  • Font families are collections of related fonts within a single typeface that have a variety of styles and weights. For example, Cooper Hewitt is the name of a typeface, and its font family includes Cooper Hewitt Thin, Light, Book (sometimes Roman or Regular), Medium, Semibold, Bold, Heavy, and Italic. And keep in mind that these days, the term “font” refers to the actual file that contains the typeface, not necessarily the typeface itself—interesting, right?
  • Leading (say “ledding,” not “leeding”) is the space between lines of text. You may also hear people refer to it as “line height.” When leading is tight, your content gets hard to read because it looks cramped. But content with too much line spacing can be problematic, too, because readers may get lost. So try to strike a good balance. Standard leading is 120% of the text size, but it’s okay to go beyond that if you think your content needs a bit more room to breathe.
  • Tracking refers to word spacing, and kerning refers to the space between individual letters. You may hear these terms when a design team is working on something like a logo because they’ll want lots of control over the typeface. Adjusting spacing can drastically change the overall appearance of the text and really help sell the overall aesthetic of a piece. That said, any typeface worth its salt will have the tracking and kerning adjusted to complement its aesthetic, so it’s generally A-OK to use the typeface in its natural state.
  • Widows and orphans (no, not those widows and orphans) are single words that end up as the only text at the beginning or end of a column or page. Designers try to avoid these stragglers since they leave too much white space and can interfere with reading flow between pages. Luckily, they’re pretty easy to get rid of by realigning the page margins or making very minor content tweaks.

There you have it, dear readers! Understanding these terms can help you collaborate with your design team and create super awesome health communication products.

The bottom line: Wrapping your head around some typography-related design jargon can prove quite useful when collaborating with designers.

Tweet about it: .@CommunicateHlth breaks down some common terms related to typography to help you talk the (design) talk when creating #HealthLit

Decoding Design Jargon: Typography Edition was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Alt: A phone screen shows a video of a doodle sharing a news story with their audience. The caption says, “Peep this new health guideline!”

Here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, we’re always looking for engaging ways to share health information on social media. And one of the best ways we’ve found to connect with people is through videos.

Want to explain a complicated thing like, you know, health stuff? Put it in a video! If you haven’t heard, video content is the best-performing type of content across all social media platforms. That means it’s the most viewed and most shared type of content on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and—more predictably—Snapchat and YouTube.

We’ve shared tips for creating videos for health information in the past. But what if your budget doesn’t include creating videos the old-fashioned way? Well today, dear readers, we’re chatting about a couple features that allow you to add video content to Facebook and Instagram—for free!

Tell your users a story

Both Facebook and Instagram now have video features called Stories—and people just ❤ them. With Stories, you can post short videos (15 seconds on Instagram, 20 seconds on Facebook) that disappear after 24 hours. Stories are great for sharing timely content and connecting directly with users. Oh, and both platforms let you play around with stickers and music to jazz up your Stories and increase reach.

So, new key health guideline just released? Let people know your 2 cents in a story!

Pro tip: Facebook Stories lets you put these videos on event and group pages, which means you can get your content in front of niche groups of Facebook users.

Go live

Facebook Live and Instagram Live both let you livestream content and interact with users in real time for a longer period of time (up to an hour on Instagram, up to 1.5 hours on Facebook). Both platforms notify your followers when you’re live and let them like and comment as they watch.

Facilitating a Q&A with experts on a health topic and want your users to tune in and participate? Live is your best bet for real-time engagement with users.

Pro tip: Facebook lets you save Live videos on your page so you can use them again (and again and again…).

The bottom line: Use cost-effective social features to make videos and increase engagement on social media.

Tweet about it: .@CommunicateHlth shares tips for creating #HealthLit social video content without breaking the bank: http://bit.ly/2KpZYSn

Social Media Part 8: Lights! Camera! Health Literacy! was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Readability and Plain Language and Health Literacy — Oh My!Alt: Three doodles under the words “Readability,” “Plain Language,” and “Health Literacy.” The doodle under “Readability” says, “Now THIS looks like somethin’ I’d read.” The doodle under “Plain Language” says “I’m understandin’ ALL this info up in here!” And the doodle under “Health Literacy” runs off, saying, “I’m gonna go make some informed decisions!”

What’s the difference between plain language and readability, exactly? And what about health literacy? Are they all the same?

Never fear, dear readers! We’re here to take a quick look at what it really means to talk about readability, plain language, and health literacy. They’re all important—and they’re definitely related—but each term means something different.

Readability is how easy (or not) something is to read. Readability formulas measure this by looking at the length of the words and sentences in a document. They can tell you what grade level your document is written for, and they’re everywhere—even Microsoft Word has one built in. But we’re not fans of these formulas because they don’t take into account plain language principles or the user’s context.

Plain language is writing that people can understand. It ensures that people can easily grasp your message the first time they read it. We’ve written about many plain language principles before, like:

When you get plain language right, readability naturally comes with it. But something written in plain language won’t improve health literacy if people don’t know what to do with the information.

Health literacy is a person’s ability to find, process, and use health information so they can make informed choices about their health. It’s a complex concept that depends on the quality and clarity of the communication as well as the skills and experience of the user. On the communication side, plain language is important—but writing for health literacy also means making the content relatable and actionable for your audience.

Whew. Now you have the facts you need to settle all those heated cocktail party disputes.

The bottom line: Readability, plain language, and health literacy are all important—so it pays to understand what makes each unique.

Tweet about it: What’s the difference between readability, plain language, and #HealthLit? @CommunicateHlth explains: https://bit.ly/2FNcA0w

Readability and Plain Language and Health Literacy — Oh My! was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Alt: A doodle presents another doodle with a box of chocolates, saying, “I love you with my WHOLE cardiovascular system.” This text is accompanied by the disclaimer, “NOT how people talk.”

This week, we’d like to have a heart-to-heart about… hearts. That’s right—we’re returning to our “use simpler words” series to have a little chat about “cardiovascular.”

Why? Because, dear readers, this 6-syllable (!) word is medical jargon—and most of the time, there’s a better alternative.

If you’re talking about cardiovascular health, you’re talking about heart health. And if you’re talking about a specific type of cardiovascular problem, well, there’s a specific name for it—like “heart attack” or “stroke.”

So instead of:

  • Getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week promotes cardiovascular health.
  • Smoking puts you at risk for cardiovascular problems.

Write:

  • Getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week helps keep your heart healthy.
  • Smoking puts you at risk for having a heart attack or a stroke.

That said, there are situations where it’s helpful to use and define the more complex term—like if you’re writing content for people who’ve just been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. They’re sure to hear it again and again.

But even then, take a moment to make sure you’re using the best term. Sometimes, you may want to get even more specific for your audience and say something like “coronary artery disease.” If so, be sure to include a clear, plain language definition—for example, “Coronary artery disease happens when a fatty material called plaque builds up in the arteries (tubes) that carry blood to your heart.”

The bottom line: For most audiences, skip “cardiovascular.” Say “heart” instead—or get more specific.

Tweet about it: What’s with “cardiovascular”? @CommunicateHlth has a heart-to-heart about #HealthLit heart-health writing: https://bit.ly/2Ueb00Z

Be Still My Cardiovascular System was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Alt: Below the words “10 years,” a doodle party for CommunicateHealth’s birthday is in full swing. The CommunicateHealth principals are there, celebrating with a large group of doodle characters.

Put on your party hats and grab some cake, dear readers—it’s CommunicateHealth’s 10th birthday! We’ve officially been in the business of health literacy and clear communication for a full decade, and we couldn’t be more excited.

You know we love a good statistic here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, so here’s an interesting one. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 3 in 10 businesses make it to their 10th birthday. We’re so proud to be one of them, and we can’t wait to see what the next decade brings. Of course, we’d be nothing without our fans and supporters—that’s you! Your devotion to our shared cause truly inspires us every day.

We ❤ Health Literacy is our very favorite way to keep in touch with plain language enthusiasts like you—so if you want to hear our thoughts on a certain topic, just let us know! It’s all we want for our birthday. Well, and for you to encourage your fellow health literacy geeks to sign up. Oh, and… just kidding. We wouldn’t want to get greedy.

The bottom line: On our 10th birthday, we send huge thanks to our supporters—we couldn’t champion health literacy without you.

Tweet about it: DYK? @CommunicateHlth is 10 years old! All the #HealthLit feels! https://bit.ly/2TAYmJ0

Celebrating a Decade of CommunicateHealth! was originally published in wehearthealthliteracy on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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