Why We Don’t Dig “Detect”

A detective doodle follows a trail of footprints with a magnifying glass and says, "I detect evidence of feline activity." A doodle with a cat on its head says, "You mean my cathead?"

As you know, dear readers, we’re always on the lookout for jargon words to ban from our vocabularies. On the chopping block this week: “detect” and “detection.”

In health comm, we often talk about the benefits of early detection to improve outcomes. But “detect” often brings to mind devices like smoke detectors, lie detectors, metal detectors… not exactly setting the scene for a cozy prevention visit with your human doctor!

So next time you detect this bit of jargon in your materials, see if you can swap it out for a friendlier plain language alternative — like “find,” “notice,” or “check for.”

Try this:

  • Regular mammograms can help find breast cancer early, when it’s easier to treat
  • If you notice any of these symptoms, go to the doctor right away
  • Your doctor can do an eye exam to check for signs of glaucoma

Not this:

  • Regular mammograms allow for early detection of breast cancer
  • If you detect any of these symptoms, convey yourself at once to the nearest physician
  • Your doctor can do an eye exam to detect glaucoma

The bottom line: Forget “detect” — “find,” “notice,” or “check for” symptoms and diseases instead!

Tweet about it: It’s time to ditch “detect” in your #HealthLit materials! @CommunicateHlth explains why and offers #PlainLanguage alternatives: https://bit.ly/37kK191


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