Unit 1: Jargon & Noise

In the introduction, we talked about the concept of noise, which can interfere with communication signals at many points in the communication process. For instance, problems with technology can cause issues with the communication channel; competing signals or a lack of silence may cause a problem with the communication signal.

However, in this first unit, we're going to look at a more fundamental disconnect between the sender and the receiver -- the lack of a common sense of language.

While most government emergency-response teams use the common language of English, their writing and speech is often peppered with jargon.

Emergency response and disaster planning often involves a variety of agencies and teams with their own jargon. Examples include police and fire codes, military slang (note: this link may contain offensive language), and specialized computer networking terms.

Of course, you can probably list a variety of jargon words used in nursing and medicine or even that may be specialized to your agency. Think of it this way: When you talk about work to family and friends, what work-related words and phrases do you need to explain? Most likely, those words and phrases are jargon.

Most likely, when you communicate with family and friends about your work, you have to "translate" what you mean into plain English. Likewise, emergency response work often requires that you communicate quickly and clearly with other response teams as well as the general public.

If you are having trouble thinking of jargon used in medicine, nursing, and healthcare, take a look at this Rice University listing of medical jargon.

Because communication in these situations often needs to be quick, clear, and effective, it is especially important for response teams to be prepared to make sure that plain English guidelines are in effect at the point your team begins interacting with the public and other agencies.

The Goal

By the end of the module, you should be able to think of ways to explain nursing and healthcare terminology in language all emergency response teams can understand.

The Challenge

During this module, you will begin developing a plan for ensuring that your ownagency or response team is prepared to communicate with the public and other first-response teams without the use of jargon. Your plan should identify a potential disaster situation and phase of response your team would normally plan for and identify strategies your team can use to make sure their communications — printed, spoken, or broadcast — are clear.

If you need a refresher on the types and phases of disasters, take a look at this tutorial on disaster management concepts and terms from The University of Wisconsin.

The Resources

While there are not many resources specific to healthcare professionals or disaster response, the federal government has developed numerous general tools for encouraging agencies to avoid jargon and use plain English. Many of these resources are centralized at PlainLanguage.gov.

For this module, we will focus largely on some specific guideline resources from this site. Though they focus heavily on written communication, most of the guidelines can be adapted to spoken and broadcast situations:

Interagency Committee on Government Information (n.d.). Writing Reader-Friendly Documents. Retrieved March 12, 2006 from http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/Reader-Friendly.doc. (Pay special attention to the sections on writing for your reader and using clear language.)

Interagency Committee on Government Information (n.d.). Quick tips to help you write more clearly. Retrieved March 31, 2006 from http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/quickreference/quicktips.cfm.

As you read these two resources, pinpoint principles that your team can use in their communications, whether written, spoken, or broadcast.

Additional Resources

Some health-specific resources do exist, though these are not generally targeted to disaster response. However, they frequently make useful points about communicating healthcare information to audiences who lack a strong healthcare background. Many of these are located at Pfizer's website Improving Health Literacy: Principles for Clear Health Communication. After reviewing the information on the main page, feel free to take a look a the "principles" documents (all PDF format) linked on the right-hand menu.


For this module, use the following guidelines to judge how to spend your time:

Remember not to neglect conference participation. This is an opportunity for you to interact with and learn from your instructor and classmates. Most students find conference participation essential to successfully completing their unit 1 project.