Cochrane Style Manual
Simple and accessible English

In this section: General guidance | Words and expressions to avoid | Plain language summaries | Additional resources

General guidance

Cochrane reviews should be written in clear, simple English so that they can be understood by the broad and international readership of Cochrane. Simplicity and clarity are vital to readability. Someone with a basic sense of the topic, who may not necessarily be an expert in the area, should find Cochrane reviews easy to read and understand. Some explanation of terms and concepts is likely to be helpful, and may be essential. 

Complex or ambiguous expressions should be avoided or reformulated to promote readability (see examples below). Where a simple English phrase can be used, do not use non-English expressions; for example, use 'conversely', inversely', or 'the other way round', rather than 'vice versa'.

Words and expressions to avoid

This table lists selected examples of complex expressions to avoid, and acceptable reformulations

Avoid

Preferred

herein

in

the majority of

most

in the majority of instances

usually

ab initio

from the start

as per

according to

per

e.g. Results not reported per intervention group

by

e.g. Results not reported by intervention group

There has been a close to two-fold increase in the incidence of infection.

The number of infections nearly doubled.

not only do

also

in the vast majority of the trials

in most of the trials

There was a loss of participants, with the main reason being death of the patient.

There was a loss of participants mainly due to deaths.

There were eight studies that compared different types of antibiotics.

Eight studies compared different types of antibiotics.

Plain language summaries

A Cochrane Plain language summary is a standalone summary of a Cochrane review written in plain English. It briefly describes the key question and findings of the review. It is clearly set out, uses words and sentence structures that are easy to understand and avoids technical terms and jargon. A clear, simple summary written in plain language helps people to understand complex health evidence. Cochrane plain language summaries are freely available on cochrane.org and in the Cochrane Library in a range of languages. The aim is that anyone looking for information about the key points of a Cochrane review can read and understand them. See the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions for guidance and the plain language summary template.

Additional resources

The following sections of the Style Manual provide further guidance on ways to promote simple and accessible English:

In addition, many other resources provide examples of how to restructure sentences that may help authors promote plain English and improve readability. Examples include the Plain English Campaign or Wikipedia's list of plain English words or phrases.

Section info
Contact
Denise Mitchell (production@cochrane.org)
Describe change
Heading 'Words and expressions to avoid' resized and re-linked to top menu.
Link to 'readability' in old Cochrane webpage removed and some of the text added to expand this section.
Change date
3 June 2024