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Simplifying consent forms, part 5 (and the Plain Language Consent Templates)

Consent form formatting and word choice can go a long way in making written consent forms easy to understand. While it may be tempting to cram as many words as possible onto a single page, in an effort to reduce the overall page count, having a bunch of gray text on a page will likely make the document difficult to read.

Likewise, long, dense sentences and language that sounds like it was lifted out of the protocol also will be pretty much incomprehensible to many people.

So what can be done to avoid this readability pitfalls? Well, white space created by space between paragraphs and in margins, and the use of bulleted lists or illustrations when appropriate, may make documents more reader-friendly. Short sentences also help. Aim for 8 to 10 words per sentence.

The UAMS Center for Health Literacy has created some “plain language” consent form templates that are designed with these ideas in mind. They are available on the UAMS Translational Research Institute’s website. While nobody is required to use these templates, we encourage everyone to at least take a look at them and see if your consent form might work in this format. Our experience with them is that their use decreases the reading level substantially, leaving us with a form that’s much easier to understand.