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News & views

Bullet lists not a panacea in painkiller leaflet

[21 March 2012] Sufferers from backache will have felt an extra twinge of pain on reading the notes on a packet of ibuprofen capsules. The reason was that old chestnut, the badly constructed vertical list. See if you can spot the problem in this extract.

Do not take if you:

  • have or have had a stomach ulcer, perforation or bleeding of the stomach
  • are allergic to ibuprofen or any other ingredient of the product, aspirin or other related painkillers
  • are taking other NSAID painkillers, or aspirin with a daily dose above 75mg
  • are pregnant do not take this product and ask your doctor for advice.


You get one point for realizing that ‘NSAID’ is unexplained jargon (‘nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug’, since you ask) but ten points for noticing that the final bullet point is bad because it repeats the ‘do not take’ message of the platform statement. Also, it’s not clear whether ‘ask your doctor for advice’ relates only to being pregnant or to the three other listed circumstances.

So the message is: always check that bullet points make sense in context or when read with the platform statement. Anyway, since complaining about bad writing is a bit of a habit here at Plain Language Towers, I raised these points – as you would have wished and expected – with the folk who issued the pill packet.

A reply came quickly in brisk, digitum-extractum mode from Katja van Eijndhoven MTOPRA, Regulatory Affairs Manager of Banner Pharmacaps Europe:

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