Words are powerful. If you search the #LanguageMatters hashtag on twitter, you’ll find some amazing advocates talking about how the use of words matter to people living with diabetes. Having spent the past few years writing my thesis, labouring over the meaning and connotation of every word and phrase has become a norm for me. In a sense, it’s like a collision of my love in diabetes advocacy and science communications.
As I’m marking more student research reports and now as I start to teach into this area, the language we use in research is something I make sure I spend time on. Taking time to consider the words we use is not about the political correctness. I feel that using words like participants rather than subjects injects humanity into our research and to the readers. I mean…humans participate in research, they’re not subjected to it (I hope!).
Research can often make us feel removed from what actually happens in the real world. Often, research is conducted in a very controlled environment and is all about the number crunching and the analysis. It’s not surprising that researchers forget there’s a real person at the other end of the research; whether it’s through participation in research or being impacted by the findings.
Word counts are tight in research. Some researchers argue against using certain terms like ‘people with diabetes’ versus ‘diabetic’ to reduce their word count. This is probably one of the worst and laziest excuses I have ever come across. If you’re going to be sharing your research findings, have a little respect to the population you are researching about.
My time as a healthcare professional and a researcher has been underpinned by my experiences as a patient in the healthcare system. As a healthcare professional, I believe strongly in patient-centred care and empowering individuals to take the lead in their health. People with diabetes need to know they always have a choice with their diabetes management options.
Words like compliance, adherence and control over-simplifies and undermines the amount of thought, effort and pre-planning that goes into diabetes management. Concepts that an HbA1c dictates a person’s success in life is like judging someone for their salary. As healthcare professionals and researchers, empathy is paramount. Behind the word ‘diabetes’ is a person, just like you and I. And each person has the power to make a difference by being mindful of the language you use.
Diabetes Australia were the first to develop a language position statement to help others understand the impact language has on people with diabetes and some alternative words or phrases to use. Check it out here.