Advice on creating written health materials

Your writing has to match the reading skills of most U.S. adults. Use these tips to develop effective health content.

Writing health material for specific audiences requires a unique skill set. Numerous studies focused on written health materials for patients and the public have found that health-related materials far exceed the average reading ability of most U.S. adults.

Below are some tips for developing and assessing written health materials:

1. Identify your audience

Take a moment and think about your intended audience. It is crucial to understand your readers and use language that they know and feel comfortable with. If you have more than one audience, you may need additional versions of the same content. Also, take a moment and think about why it’s important for the learner to read this document. What do you want readers to know and do when they are done reading the information?

2. Organize the content

Deliver your most important message first. You want to ensure you have your readers’ attention so they continue reading the information you are sharing. Include all the “need to know” information, using jargon-free words and plain language, and eliminate all “nice to know” information.

Structure the content of your document to address questions your audience may have, and then organize them in a logical order. If your document is communicating a process, present the steps in a sequential or chronological order.

3. Write in the active voice

When writing in the active voice, you ask the reader to do something or take an action. This helps with accountability, as the reader becomes the “doer” of the content. “Take your medicine with your lunch” is an example of active voice. Passive voice would be “Medicine should be taken at lunchtime.”

4. Include useful headings and subheadings

Grouping information into sections with clear headings helps readers easily find and identify the key facts they’re looking for.

5. Include sufficient white space

Do not fill the entire page with text and content. Dense sections and a lack of white space are visually unappealing and don’t allow readers’ eyes to rest. White space aids in breaking up the content and enhances reading ease.

6. Use graphics for clarity

Provide examples for your readers to help them understand the points you make in the document. Use graphics such as lists, tables, charts or illustrations to help break up a document that contains a large amount of text.

7. Test your document

Review materials with an agreed-upon, consistent process and engage members of the intended audience in the review process. It is ideal to have members of your audience offer guidance in the development and design of the information. Always pilot your draft materials with feedback from your intended audience and revise them based on readers’ findings and suggestions.

Other helpful tools to assess your written materials include:

Terri Ann Parnell is principal and founder of Health Literacy Partners , LLC. The original version of this post can be found here .


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