Field testing, a must-do for on-target handouts

Find out what audience wants to learn

To write clear, understandable material for patients, patient educators must involve the target population in the process.

It's important to find out how the intended audience perceives the topic, and what their concerns are so the material can be written from their perspective, says Sandra Cornett, PhD, RN, director of the OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program at The Ohio State University in Columbus.

There are two different times to involve potential readers. The first is before you begin to write the material, and the second is when the article is completed.

Before writing an article, ask potential readers what they want to know about the topic, so the message can be framed from a patient perspective. In this way, it will grab their interest and address their major concerns. That doesn't mean that health care professionals don't include information they see as essential, such as facts on self care, that weren't mentioned by potential readers. However, patients' concerns must be addressed as well, explains Cornett.

Once the final draft is completed, field test the material either in a focus group or one on one. "There is no other way to find out if the material is understandable until you take it to your intended user," says Cornett.

During field testing, you will look at content to determine if the audience can read, understand, and remember key points.

A second area of focus is utility. Will the audience read the materials and use it? Is it culturally appropriate?

The third area of testing is on appeal. How does the audience respond? Is the piece attractive, persuasive, easy to read, personally relevant?

How to field test

To field test, start with general questions. Ask readers, "What are some words to describe this pamphlet? What do you like best about this piece?"

Continue with questions on content, writing style, layout and design, and the use of the material. Questions in these categories may include:

Content—

What are some of the major ideas?

Are any ideas confusing?

Are important ideas left out?

Are people with similar problems likely to be concerned about these ideas?

Writing style—

Are there words you don't understand?

What do you think about how the ideas were presented?

How about the length of the piece?

Do the words sound the way people talk?

Layout and design—

What do you like/dislike about the way the material looks?

Do the pictures help get the ideas across?

Are there any pictures you would change?

Using the information—

Can a person reading this booklet do what it recommends?

It's important to field test before having a pamphlet printed or an educational sheet downloaded onto the Intranet, because it is the only way to be sure patients will read and follow the information, says Cornett.

(Editor's Note: For additional information on field testing see article on OSU/AHEC Health Literacy Program Web site titled "The Basics of Audience Research and Field Testing." It is located at http://medicine.osu.edu/ahec/4977.cfm under Clear Health Communication Content.)