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Public Underst Sci. 2015 Aug;24(6):751-66. doi: 10.1177/0963662514528439. Epub 2014 Apr 21.

Simple genetics language as source of miscommunication between genetics researchers and potential research participants in informed consent documents.

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Western University, Canada.
Robarts Research Institute, Canada.
Western University, Canada


Informed consent is based on communication, requiring language to convey meanings and ensure understandings. The purpose of this study was to investigate the use of language in informed consent documents used in the genetics research funded by Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Genome Canada. Consent documents were requested from the principal investigators in a recent round of funding. A qualitative content analysis was performed, supported by NVivo7™. Potential barriers to informed consent were identified, including language that was vague and variable, words with both technical and common meanings, novel phrases without clear meaning, a lack of definitions, and common concepts that assume new definitions in genetics research. However, we noted that difficulties in comprehension were often obscured because the words used were generally simple and familiar. We conclude that language gaps between researcher and potential research participants may unintentionally impair comprehension and ultimately impair informed consent in genomics research.


clinical genetics research; decision-making in science; ethics; genetic and reproductive technologies; language; public understanding; science communication

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