Plain Language Service

Plain language is a key to ensuring that the health information you provide to patients, clients and consumers is easy to read, easy to understand and easy to act on.

Since 1997, the Plain Language Service has offered its expert advice to health professionals, voluntary sector organizations, government departments and the private sector. Our goal? To help you create health information at a Grade level that matches the reading capacity of your intended audience.

What is low health literacy?

CPHA has defined health literacy as “the ability to access, understand and act on information for health.”

When someone is ill, anxious or in pain, being able to access and understand health information may be difficult, even if that person’s literacy skills are generally high.

For the 42 percent of adult Canadians with low literacy skills, understanding and acting on health information may be difficult at any time.

Understanding low literacy in Canada

In 2003, 23,000 adult Canadians were part of an international literacy survey led by Statistics Canada. The results showed:

Literacy Level % of adults Skill Level
1 15% Poor readers
2 27% Narrow readers
3 39% Adequate skills
4 & 5 19% Highest skills

Adults in Levels 1 and 2—42 percent of those surveyed—have low literacy skills. This means their ability to respond to various types of written information they encounter in life is compromised.

The combination of low literacy and a lack of health literacy can be dangerous—and even deadly. By providing clear, reliable information to the public, health professionals and governments are helping citizens and patients to manage their health, understand treatment protocols, safeguard their children’s health and avoid catastrophe (by taking the wrong prescription dose, for example).

See our Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about the Plain Language Service.