Simple steps to sure-fire materials

At the University of New England Health Literacy Center in Biddeford, ME, a checklist for creating easy-to-read materials was assembled to help health care professionals improve communication skills. Following are some of the tips offered on the list:

Appearance/appeal.

Appearance is important. Written material should look easy to read and also be appealing and attractive. All the design elements, including text layout and pictures, work together to attract attention.

A good layout should include the following:

— ample white space, generous margins, short line length;

— balance between white space, words, and illustrations;

— highly visible section titles;

— key points emphasized with such techniques as boxes, bold letters, different typeface, and increased font size;

— upper- and lowercase letters in 12-14 point serif typeface;

— Illustrations that reinforce key points located close to the appropriate text that are suitable for the target audience and have captions when needed.

Organization.

When good organization skills are used, the structure and sequence of the text makes it easy for readers to grasp the message quickly. Well-organized materials should include:

— key messages or actions a person should take located up front;

— three to five major points that are "need to know" information;

— information that is sequenced and written in a logical way;

— sections that are short, visually distinct, and appropriately labeled.

Writing Style.

The author should use strong, clear, concrete nouns and verbs that create visual images the reader will remember. Well-written materials have the following attributes:

— conversational style writing with friendly tone and use of pronouns;

— technical jargon eliminated from text un-less necessary and when used an explanation is provided;

— concrete examples are used to improve understanding, and common words and analogies explain difficult concepts;

— words and sentences are short and simple but not choppy, and important information is clear.

(Editor’s note: For more information, contact: AHEC Health Literacy Center, University of New England, 11 Hills Beach Road, Biddeford, ME 04005.)