Consent forms are often long and incomprehensible. The authors studied 88 consecutive research consent forms generated at the Denver Veterans Administration Medical Center, evaluating the reading levels of the forms using the Fry Readability Scale and recording the numbers of lines of text. The mean grade reading level required for comprehension was 13.4 years of schooling. Twenty-two percent of all text passages scored were at the postgraduate level of readability. This difficult readability level has not improved since the forms were last tested in 1982. The mean length of the forms was 84.6 lines. Also found was a 58% increase in the length of forms since 1982, a factor known to impair comprehension. These factors, poor readability and increasing length, may make many consent forms incomprehensible. It is recommended that investigators be brief, use plain English, and write consent forms at appropriate reading levels, and receive training on how to obtain valid consent.