Improving Layman Understanding of Forensic Evidence: Can the Language of Autopsy Reports and Personal Examination Reports be Made more Lay-friendly?

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Published Apr 19, 2024
Karen Korning Zethsen Lene Warner Thorup Boel Matilde Nisbeth Brøgger

Abstract

In murder and attempted murder cases, the information provided by the autopsy report or personal examination report and the evidence given in court by forensic pathologists is often essential for the legal outcome. These reports written by forensic pathologists contain very specialised language; however, when used in connection with legal cases, the target audience also comprises non-experts in medicine such as the police, lawyers, judges, jury members and lay judges. Therefore, the reports must be comprehensible to this lay audience. This study investigates the language of 15 written autopsy reports and personal examination reports used in court with the aim of identifying potentially incomprehensible linguistic features or features which make the reports unnecessarily complex to laymen. Results show that many linguistic elements both at word, sentence and text level can be changed to more lay-friendly options without loss of precision. We discuss best practice recommendations as well as potential barriers to implementing these recommendations in practice.

How to Cite

Korning Zethsen, Karen, Lene Warner Thorup Boel, and Matilde Nisbeth Brøgger. 2024. “Improving Layman Understanding of Forensic Evidence: Can the Language of Autopsy Reports and Personal Examination Reports Be Made More Lay-Friendly?”. Fachsprache 46 (1-2):2-19. https://doi.org/10.24989/fs.v46i1-2.2187.
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Keywords

lay-friendliness, comprehensibility, forensic medicine, autopsy report, best practice

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