Idastiina Valtasalmi: Writing research information leaflets and consent forms in easy language

The writer of the blog: Idastiina Valtasalmi

Research participants should be informed about the research in a way they can understand. In easy language research, this might involve writing research information leaflets and consent forms in easy language. What is the process of using easy language in research, and what are the benefits?

In spring 2018, I began writing my PhD thesis about the accessibility of easy language to people with intellectual disabilities. Since the designed research participants were easy language users, one of the first tasks was to write research information leaflets and consent forms in easy Finnish, or selkokieli. The task was not straightforward, because there were no guidelines for using easy language in research. Instead, I turned to ethical guidelines for research and guidelines for easy Finnish to find the best way to proceed.

The goal was to write research documents for two target audiences in two different language forms: one in easy Finnish for research participants, and another in standard Finnish for their legal representatives, if they had any. First, a standard Finnish information leaflet was written following the ethical principles of research. Then, a consent form was simply modeled after a form provided by the Ethics Committee of the Tampere Region. The Committee would later conduct the ethical review for the research.

Once the standard Finnish form and leaflet were finished, they were adapted into easy language following the linguistic and visual criteria for easy Finnish (see, for example, Selkokeskus 2018; Leskelä 2019). The purpose of each text was introduced carefully at the beginning since it was assumed that the readers might not be familiar with the genres.

The easy Finnish adaptation of the leaflet was an A5-sized document with 7 pages, and its standard language counterpart was an A4-sized document with one page. Despite having more pages, the easy language leaflet had less text and was shorter. To improve perceptibility, the easy language text was typed in a 14-point font and headlines in a 16-point font. The text was aligned to the left, and new sentences started on a new line. Each line had less than 60 characters following the Finnish guidelines for easy language. No pictures were used, so the focus was on clear textual hierarchy. Headlines were at the top of the page, and the text focused only on one topic on each page.

The easy language texts were sent to the ethics committee to be assessed with the ethical review application. After a positive review statement, they were sent to the Finnish Center for Easy Language with an application for a permission to use the SELKO symbol. The symbol is granted free of charge to texts that meet the criteria for easy Finnish (Selkokeskus 2021). Permission to use the symbol was granted after the language and layout were assessed and approved.

Research information leaflet was distributed to potential participants in group meetings. In other words, it was delivered to them personally, and they had an opportunity to hear more about the study. The contents of the leaflet were introduced orally using the guidelines for easy language in interaction (Leskelä & Lindholm 2012). Voluntary participation was emphasized several times during the meeting. Reception was very positive, and lively conversations ensued in an unhurried environment. Potential participants were able to take the information leaflet home and consider if they wanted to participate. They were also given an opportunity to attend one-on-one meetings if they wanted to ask more questions or enroll in the study.

The SELKO symbol turned out be an important asset in making information leaflets and consent forms more accessible and acceptable. The primary purpose of the symbol was to make sure that the texts were officially accepted as easy language. Then, many of the readers commented that they became more interested in the texts after seeing the symbol, so it made the texts more approachable and reading more acceptable (Maaß 2020: 44-47). All in all, it can be said that the SELKO symbol was useful and had a double role in improving acceptability.

To summarize, when conducting research with easy language users, written and spoken easy language should be used in various stages of the research process. Otherwise, inaccessible communication might turn away potential participants and cause misunderstandings that might endanger the ethical principles of informed consent and self-determination. For this reason, easy language should be embraced not only as a subject of research but also as a tool for research. Only then user-based easy language research can be made more accessible to its participants.

About the writer: Idastiina Valtasalmi is a doctoral researcher at Tampere University. The topic of her ongoing research is Accessible language: People with intellectual disabilities as users of Easy Finnish.

Leskelä, Leealaura 2019: Selkokieli: Saavutettavan kielen opas. Helsinki: Kehitysvammaliitto ry.
Leskelä, Leealaura & Lindholm, Camilla 2012 (eds.): Haavoittuva keskustelu. Keskustelunanalyyttisia tutkimuksia kielellisesti epäsymmetrisestä vuorovaikutuksesta. Helsinki, Kehitysvammaliitto.
Maaß, Christiane 2020: Easy language – plain language – easy language plus. balancing comprehensibility and acceptability (vol. 3). Berlin: Frank & Timme.
Selkokeskus 2018: Selkomittari. (5.10.2021)
Selkokeskus (2021). Selko symbol. (5.10.2021)

3 vastausta artikkeliin “Idastiina Valtasalmi: Writing research information leaflets and consent forms in easy language”

  1. This is a model example of how to take easy language users as participants in concideration! It shows a great deal effort and gives very good starting point to your research.

    Have you concidered giving Selkokeskus premission to keep your informaation leaflet and consent form texts as examples for other research projects to come?

    Great to hear also that SELKO symbol had a positive effect on the target group. It’s good to know that it actually gives courage to read texts and in this case participate!

    1. Thank you! I will probably include the information leaflet and consent form in my PhD thesis in one way or another, so they will be available after it is published.

  2. Very useful and important example how to regard needs of cognitively impaired participants in research work. It’s important from an ethical point of view and also from legal aspect that participants get full comprehension of all information. This comes true as it has supplied in Easy Language, as well written as also oral explanations, as you have conducted it.
    And good to hear that SELKO symbol have identified as a reliable and positive symbol that motivated participants to read texts and take part.

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