Keeping your safety warnings jargon-free


The labeling on certain prescription medications puzzles me. For instance, I have a skin medication that says the following on the tube:

“For dermatologic use only. Not for ophthalmic use.”

If you’re reasonably familiar with medical jargon, you probably know that the warning means something like this:

“This product should only be used on your skin. Don’t put it in your eyes.”

So, why doesn’t the safety warning just say that in plain and simple language? Perhaps there’s some regulation that requires prescription drug containers to use precise medical terminology. Maybe it’s tradition. Regardless of the cause, the current approach means that people need a relatively high level of literacy and domain knowledge to interpret a warning label. This is clearly not optimal when you’re trying to protect them from using a product the wrong way and hurting themselves in the process.

To remedy this situation, simply replace the jargon-heavy safety warning with the plain-English version. Or, if regulations require that the jargon be on there, add the translated version right below it. By following this guideline, manufacturers will enable a much higher percentage of customers to read and understand the safety warnings. This means more people will be properly informed about how to avoid potentially dangerous mistakes when using those products, which is exactly what safety warnings were intended to do in the first place.