Print: Section 2.6

Write Actionable Content

2.6 Write in plain language.

Developing website content in plain language means that your users will be able to understand what you’re trying to say the first time they read it.47

Keep paragraphs and sentences short and simple.47

Try to keep sentences to 20 words and under.30 Try to keep paragraphs to 3 lines or less.7,24,48

Always use language that is familiar to your users.7,8,24,27,30,35,49

Avoid jargon terms when you can. Choose language that your users can relate to.

Use the active voice.

Write in the active voice.47 Writing in the active voice means that the subject of your sentence performs the action. Active sentences:

  • Are more actionable and direct
  • Are easier to understand
  • Generally require fewer words24,30,37,50
Tests may be needed to find out what’s wrong.
You may need a test to find out what’s wrong.

Define complex terms.

When introducing a medical term, clearly define the term the first time you use it. Define the word in context rather than using a glossary or scroll-over definition.


Your primary doctor may refer you to a neurologist. A neurologist is a doctor who treats problems related to the brain and nervous system.

Think about whether it benefits the user to learn a jargon term—or if it makes sense to work around it. For example, a person with epilepsy needs to know the term “neurologist,” while in a different context it may be enough to say “specialist.”

If the most accurate word is an unfamiliar medical term, incorporate a plain language definition into the text the first time you use it.51 Consider making the definition part of the sentence or placing it between em dashes.8


The medicine can cause vomiting—throwing up—if you take it on an empty stomach.

Use everyday examples to explain medical or technical concepts.47

Always choose words and images that your users can relate to.


When you get a mammogram, the nurse will place your breasts between 2 plastic plates and take a picture of each breast.

Write in a friendly, conversational tone.

Formal language can make health content feel less accessible to your user,37 so write how you speak. Use contractions.52 Use second-person pronouns when you can to speak directly to your reader.47


“I like [this website] because it’s easy for everyday people like me to read. No big words or medical terms.”

Try this

Use the CDC Clear Communication Index to help you assess your health communication materials.