Plain Language: It’s About Smartening Up, Not Dumbing Down (HLOL #179)

Karen Schriver PhD is President of KSA Communication Design and Research—a Pittsburgh-based consultancy focused on making information clear, compelling, and usable. She helps organizations draw on the latest empirical research so they can write and design more effective people-centered communications. She is a former professor of rhetoric and information design at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Schriver’s book, Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers has been called a landmark in its field. Winner of fourteen international and national awards for her work, Dr. Schriver is writing a new book about ways to reach busy readers through evidence-based information design and plain language.

In this podcast, Dr. Karen Schriver talks with Helen Osborne about:

  • Plain language. Includes not only simpler words but also sentence structure, design, and many other ways to help readers find, understand, and use information. 
  • Reluctance and skepticism about plain language (sometimes expressed as concerns about “dumbing down”) from writers and subject-matter experts.
  • Examples and strategies to make a compelling case for using plain language (or, as Helen sometimes calls this approach, “smartening up”).

More Ways to Learn:

  • “Plain Language in the US Gains Momentum: 1940-2015,” by Karen Schriver. Published in IEEE Transactions of Personal Communication, Volume 60, Issue 4. Abstract available at
  • Dynamics in Document Design: Creating Texts for Readers, by Karen Schriver.

For more information, contact Dr. Schriver at

Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Second Edition (Updated 2018), by Helen Osborne. Relevant chapters include: 3, 6, 9, 12, 16, 21, 28.

Read the transcript of this podcast. 

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