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J Empir Res Hum Res Ethics. 2016 Feb;11(1):31-46. doi: 10.1177/1556264616637483.

Reading Level and Comprehension of Research Consent Forms: An Integrative Review.

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Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
Columbia University, New York, NY, USA


Consent forms continue to be at a higher reading level than the recommended sixth to eighth grade, making it difficult for participants to comprehend information before enrolling in research. To assess and address the extent of the problem regarding the level of literacy of consent forms and update previously published reports, we conducted an integrative literature review of English language research published between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2013; 35 descriptive and eight intervention studies met inclusion criteria. Results confirmed that developing forms at eighth-grade level was attainable though not practiced. It was found that risks of participation was the section most poorly understood. There was also a lack of consensus regarding the most effective method to increase comprehension. Further research using standardized tools is needed to determine the best approach for improving consent forms and processes.


comprehension; consent form; human research; informed consent; reading level; research study; understanding

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