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The Value of Plain Language

Are you using too much jargon?

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Many web articles and other written resources promoting physical activity are too difficult for the average U.S. adult to understand, per findings by Oregon State University researchers in Corvallis, Oregon.

“When people access the web and try to read something about exercise or health that is above their comfort level, they can easily become confused,” said study author Brad Cardinal, PhD, professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “If we think it’s an important message, we should make it as broadly accessible [using plain, simple language] as possible.”

Researchers reviewed the readability of 163 written resources created to encourage physical activity among the general public. Over 50% of the materials were written above an eighth-grade reading level. Only 2.5% of materials fell within optimal reading levels—fifth grade or lower.

Fitness professionals should keep these findings in mind when evaluating their own written communications and when considering their choice of teaching cues and explanations. For example, instead of using anatomical references such as “engage your quadriceps,” say, “feel your thighs working.” Using everyday, nontechnical, inclusive language is the best way to reach the widest possible audience and to motivate the most people to get active.

The study was reported in the Sociology of Sport Journal (2018; doi: 10.1123/ssj.2017-0181).

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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