As we develop health materials for the general public – on paper, in postings or online – we need to eliminate as many barriers to comprehension and use as possible.
The Challenge for Writers
Health literacy insights tell us to pay attention to a wide variety of text characteristics that ease or inhibit reading. Health writers also need to consider what it is they expect readers to do as a result of engaging with their text. Do we make it easy for people to take action?
Consider the Reader
Reading is a complicated task. The components of reading include the following:
- Alphabetics: the process of using letters in an alphabet to represent sounds in the spoken word. Needed skills include knowledge of basic sounds [phonemes] and an understanding of the relationship between these sounds and letters [phonics].
- Fluency: ability to read with speed and ease.
- Vocabulary: knowledge of the meaning of a word. Understanding less common words requires background knowledge.
- Reading comprehension: a construction process. This process involves all the elements of a reading process to derive meaning from text.
Beginning readers are developing skills in sounding out words. They learn to link sound to meaning. Over time, they learn about linked words in short sentences. They often read one word at a time and may skip over unfamiliar words. New readers may tire easily. As a result, new readers often focus on individual words and have difficulty focusing on the meaning of a sentence. Intermediate readers are building background knowledge and vocabulary. At the same time, they are improving word recognition and fluency. They are learning to derive meaning from text and to make inferences. Advanced readers read with speed and ease. They understand the context and can make inferences. They are using the written word and applying literacy skills to a variety of academic and mundane tasks.
Click here for sample materials and plain language glossaries
Click here for additional resources on creating and assessing web and print materials.