A simple way to promote diversity in research

Promoting Diversity in clinical research is something we all need to do better.  My guest blogger this month is Shelley Purchon, a UK based expert in helping people to communicate with those who don’t speak English as a first language.  Although she works in the UK, the principles apply in any country where English is the primary language.  Her post provides some insights on how using language effectively can make a difference, so if this is something you’re thinking about or actively working on please read on…


When recruiting people for research, do you assume that everyone reading your participant-facing materials grew up speaking English? That’s a common mistake to make, but one which narrows your reach.

Racialised minority groups are under-represented in patient communities recruited to research’ 2022 The British Medical Journal

I train researchers to look at their comms through the eyes of someone who does not speak English as a mother tongue, and rewrite them with that kind of reader in mind. Even readers with an intermediate level of English should be able to understand what you have written. By writing for them you not only make it more likely that they will participate but you welcome other diverse groups too. Here’s why.

Three reasons why writing in this way makes diverse recruitment more likely.

  1. You’re targeting the very people who are the hardest to reach.

In 2018 there were over 3 million foreign born adults living in the UK, and 10% of them reported experiencing problems in work or education as a result of their limited English language skills. In the US, 8% of the population has ‘Limited English Proficiency.Theirs is an unheard voice because of all the people who are disadvantaged, they are perhaps the hardest to communicate with. Ethnically minoritised people are also more impacted by poor health, as the covid pandemic illustrated. How wonderful it would be to include members of those communities in your research.

People who are not proficient in English are more than twice as vulnerable to ill health than those who are. Office for National Statistics.

  1. You’ll stop making the same old assumptions

A lot of comms is written in a style that only someone with a degree would understand. If you start picturing a reader who grew up outside the UK it pushes you to write differently. Maybe they don’t have a degree? If you use jargon such as steering group or long-term study, you are assuming that your reader understands the scientific method. You have worked for years in a field which is full of jargon and may have become blind to it – I can help you find alternatives without dumbing down your message.

  1. Your comms will be more eye catching.

This is because if I train you to write for people who are learning English you will get straight to the point. I advise my clients that if they don’t catch their reader’s attention in the first sentence they have probably missed their chance, because it requires so much extra effort to read in a foreign language. The only job of your opening sentence is to get the reader to opt in.

Compare these two opening phrases-

 ‘We are looking for people to participate in a study which examines the relationship between Parkinson’s and sunlight exposure.’

‘Do you have Parkinson’s? Would you like to help us to understand it better?’

If you write in this way, everyone is more likely to give your comms a chance, not just the learners of English who you had in mind.


Register your interest

The above are some of the tips you will learn on our course ‘How To Word Things For Diverse Patient And Public Involvement.’ Why not add your name to the list so that you will be informed the next time I run it? It lasts one hour and participants receive an eBook with further examples and exercises.


Why not use the English Unlocked rewriting service? If your piece is short I’ll rewrite it for free – get in touch to find out about this service.

Remember – If it’s clear enough for someone with an intermediate English level, it’s clearer for everyone.


Shelley Purchon
Director of English Unlocked

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