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Dumbing It Down?

By Julie Silver MD

It's not uncommon that someone will make a comment to me about how we (physicians) need to "dumb it down" when it comes to publishing information for consumers. 

In fact, this is exactly the wrong approach when you are trying to reach people with important health information.  Instead, what we need to strive for is a smart translation of medical science. 

While it's true that people who are not in healthcare likely won't understand a highly technical medical research study (just as doctors probably wouldn't understand a complicated document in another industry), what isn't true is that our patients, readers and consumers need to have information "dumbed down."

A smart translation means that you are approaching your reader with respect for his or her intelligence and knowledge.  Dumbing anything down is just plain disrespectful.  Attitude comes across the written page and seeps into the "take home messge."  A respectful attitude means that readers are more likely to consider the information presented.  Perhaps to heed the advice and even to share it with others. 

Bottom line: everything that physicians write and publish should be done with the goal of offering a terrific translation for a given audience.  I think about this a lot.  When I don't get it right, it isn't because I dumbed my communication down.  I just didn't quite nail the translation.  Great translations aren't easy, but they are incredibly effective.  Offering important health information along with respect is what we should all aim for all of the time.

About: Julie K. Silver, MD is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and is the Chief Editor of Books at Harvard Health Publications, the consumer health branch of Harvard Medical School. She is the director of the annual Harvard CME course titled "Publishing Books, Memoirs and Other Creative Nonfiction". She blogs at Freelance MD.

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