On the front page...
In its annual salute to the agency's communicators,
NIH held the sixth Plain Language Awards ceremony on Apr. 19. Some
awardees traveled across the country to receive the honors, which
recognize NIH communication products that deliver messages clearly.
Special guest recipients who attended the event included several
representatives of the O'odham Nation and the communities of Gila
River and Salt River in Arizona, and other American Indian communities.
They collaborated with NIDDK staff to develop several award-winning
communication products, including a video on slowing kidney disease
and a calendar for people with diabetes.
"One of the challenges [in communication] is that there is no
one-size-fits-all message," noted NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni,
acknowledging those who contributed their expertise in cultural
customs to help make the health education material more effective. "Every
message has to be sensitive to its intended recipient. Culturally
sensitive communication cannot be applied across the board. When
you want to communicate, you can't just listen to yourself — you
have to listen to the public you're trying to reach."
NIH's Executive Secretariat, which hosts the Plain Language Initiative,
and the plain language coordinating committee, received more than
175 nominations for material produced in 2005. Awards were given
for outstanding, excellent and honorable mention.
|Guest speaker Burkey Belser, designer of
the Nutrition Facts label, greets an attendee.
Guest speaker Burkey Belser, designer of the Nutrition Facts label
found on virtually all U.S. food and beverage products (and many
millions more worldwide), discussed the Communication Index, a
formula he developed to measure how well messages reach their targets.
His formula assigns a numerical value between one and 10 to each
of four categories: difficulty of subject matter, difficulty of
presentation, motivation of the reader and expertise of the reader.
The difficulty values are multiplied and then divided by motivation
times expertise to arrive at the CI. The higher the CI, the least
likely the communication works. In fact, messages are deemed fully
successful only at scores from 0.01 to 1.0. Between 1 and 10, communications
enter a warning zone where they become more difficult to understand.
After the 10-point mark, the audience tunes out completely.
Belser also acknowledged a gap between so-called "super-knowers" and "street-level
knowers" that all communicators are ultimately trying to close.
Super-knowers speak "in code." They often complain of having to
simplify material it has taken them a lifetime to understand themselves.
Street-level knowers speak in "stories based on cause and effect." They
often worry that "This is too hard. I don't understand. Why can't
this be simplified?"
|NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni (standing,
r) welcomes special guest recipients who attended the Plain
Language Awards ceremony including several representatives
of the O’odham Nation and the communities of Gila River
and Salt River in Arizona.
Belser said, "If there's any take-away from this presentation,
it's that motivation needs to be at the heart and soul of what
we do. We have to consider the motivation of the reader. And we
have to bank on the worst, particularly if it's about public policy."
Finally, showing slides of FDA's now nearly universally used Drug
Facts label, which he also designed to make clearer, Belser addressed
the consequences of not delivering important messages simply: "With
poor communication, you may die," he said bluntly, with somewhat
deadpan humor. "It's true, isn't it? You and your customers may
die. Your citizens may die. You, your customers and your citizens
may be seriously injured. With poor communication, your family
and your pets may die.He or she may divorce you." If we don't communicate
well, he concluded, then our health, work, families and social
relationships all may suffer.
So, only half kidding, Belser came up with a bumper sticker that
he wants everyone to have: "SPEAK PLAINLY. SAVE LIVES."
To find out more about the Plain Language Initiative and see a
list of the current award-winning products, visit http://execsec.od.nih.gov/plainlang/awards/index.html.