Testing tips from those in the know

Advice on improving field-testing techniques

The Clear Language Group is a consortium of communication specialists whose aim is to create clear, plain language materials.

In this piece three members provide a few simple tips on field-testing, bits of wisdom they have learned through experience.

Audrey Riffenburgh, MA, president, Riffenburgh and Associates in Albuquerque, NM, former adult basic education administrator, tutor, and tutor trainer.

"Wondering how to find readers with limited skills to consult about your materials? Contact your local adult literacy organization or adult basic education program. Not sure how to find them? You can start your search at ProLiteracy Worldwide's web site www.proliteracy.org and click on "Find a Program." This will usually lead you to local adult literacy programs, which typically serve the low- to intermediate-level readers as well as adults learning English as a second language.

Or you can call your local school district or community college to find out whether they offer instruction to adults with less than a high school education. The sponsorship of these programs varies from state to state as does the terminology used to describe them.

Some of the terms often used to describe programs are: pre-GED, adult basic education, adult education, adult literacy, basic skills, English as a second language (ESL), and English as a foreign language. The best class level for testing materials with native English speakers is pre-GED. And the best class level for testing materials with ESL students is intermediate."

Sue Stableford, MPH, MSB, director AHEC Health Literacy Center University of New England, Biddeford, ME.

"Use the same testing groups (representative of or actual users) several times to progressively shape materials. This has been especially useful for longer (12 page) booklets. The feedback during successive efforts to address both text and graphic concerns has been invaluable and resulted in a sterling new booklet. Additional testing should be done near the end with people and/or groups who have not helped in development.

The groups that help with development take real pride and ownership in their contributions. And they get a product that's truly useful to them as well as others."

Jann Keenan, EdS, president, The Keenan Group Inc., Ellicott City, MD.

"Offer participants cab fare or bus tokens to and from your focus group site along with the incentive gift. Choose a site that is easy to find and put up signs or have a greeter at the front entrance to lead participants to the room. People with limited literacy can have challenges navigating buildings. When working with ethnic groups, consider placing a few cultural artifacts around the room and post a sign with 'Hello' written in the participants' native language.

In the room, serve healthy snacks before the group starts so you won't need to break mid-way through to keep up the group's momentum.

Place a tent card with the participant's first name, a note pad and pen, the easy-to-read consent form, and a handwritten thank you note at each place setting. These small efforts set a welcoming tone."

[To learn more about The Clear Language Group: Phone: (410) 480-3723. E-mail: clg@clearlanguagegroup.com. Web site: www.clearlanguagegroup.com.]