Substitute Words List

University of Utah Health Sciences Center

Since health writing usually uses technical terms, it is helpful to the reader to use shorter words whenever possible. Here is a list of words that are commonly found in health literature. Using the substitute word instead of the technical word will help improve the readability of your material. Use this list of substitute words for difficult-to-understand, abstract terminology.


Plain Language Thesaurus

University of Washington

This Plain Language Thesaurus has been put together by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Marketing. The thesaurus offers plain language alternatives to medical terms, phrases, and references that we often use

“How To” Tips for Plain Language works to improve communication from the Federal Government to the Public. This site provides shortcuts to a wealth of materials. Resources include: quick reference tips on writing clear documents, word suggestions to keep your writing jargon-free, dictionaries, thesauruses, style guides, and grammar sites, as well as tips for starting your own plain-language programs.

Quick Checklist for Plain Language

The Maximus Center for Health Literacy

This two-sided reference will help you check your print and web materials for plain language and formatting that helps readers find and understand key messages. Check your materials for Reader Focus, Organization, Writing, Design, and Formatting. The more items with checks, the more likely it will be that readers can understand and use the material. Tips for checking the language are also included.

Health Literacy from A-Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message

Helen Osborne’s book covers a range of topics from plain language and document formatting to email communication, Web site design, and touchscreen technology. She also covers topics such as shared decision making, risk communication, and dealing with barriers such as blindness or hearing difficulties.

CDC Clear Communication Index and Scoring Widget

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 Clear Communication Index Scoring Widget

The CDC Clear Communication Index is a research-based tool to help you develop and assess public communication materials. The 20 items in the index build on and expand plain language techniques described in the Federal Plain Language Guidelines. The Index goes beyond checklists and readability formulas by focusing on the most important research-based items that enhance clarity and aid understanding. The index also provides a numerical score so you can objectively assess and improve materials based on the best available science.