Improving Comprehension of a Consent Form or Script

Forms and scripts must be presented in a way that participants will understand. Below are some tips to improve comprehension in consent forms or scripts.

  • Forms and scripts should be written in a conversational style. Participants should be referred to as “you” and the researcher referred to as “I.”

“If you agree to take part in the study, I will ask you questions about your experience.”

  • Research terminology should not be used for a lay population. Many people will not know precisely what “reporting in aggregate” or “control condition” means.

“When we report about what we learned, we will talk about groups, not about individuals.”

  • Language should be tailored to the subject population.

According to the Literacy Project Foundation, 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an eighth grade level and 45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level.   When writing for a community audience:

  • Use plain language. When short words can be substituted for a long word, use them. “Participate” can become “be in.”  “Evaluate” can become “find out if this works.”  PlainLanguage.gov includes a helpful  and lengthy glossary of simple words and phrases 
  • Shorten sentences.
  • Present tasks in bulleted lists.

If your study population will include professionals, college students, or other populations you know have a high reading level, it is still important to avoid discipline-specific dialogue that may be opaque to people in fields other than our own.