Thursday, October 2, 2008

Does your coalition have an effective before and after example of improved health literacy? Send us your materials and we'll post them on the IZTA Blog! Interested in more about health literacy? Here is this week's TA Tip.

October is Health Literacy Month. Health literacy describes how people obtain, understand, and act on health information. Research correlates lower health literacy with decreased rates of receiving preventative care, such as immunizations. Coalitions can confront this important challenge by creating materials and messages that are easily understood.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services offers a helpful primer to bolster health literacy efforts. The following tips, taken from their resource titled Quick Guide to Health Literacy, will help get you started.

1. Identify the intended user.

Tailor messages to the needs of your audience. Consider language, culture, demographics, and behavior when developing or selecting materials.

2. Use pre-and-post tests.

Pre-test materials for their content, layout, and tone, and revise them based on audience feedback. Once they are distributed, a follow-up evaluation will gauge their effectiveness. If you purchase rather than create materials, still pre-test them to judge their appropriateness for your community.

3. Limit the number of messages.

Focus on just a few important points rather than complicated explanations. Even though health problems are often nuanced and complex, most readers will not remember more than four messages—at most.

4. Use plain language.

Plain language is a writing style that is easy to read and logically organized so important points come first. It uses simple short sentences, avoids jargon, and gives definitions for technical terms when they are used. It also uses the active voice to emphasize simple clear actions. Visit for more tips and resources, including helpful before and after examples.

5. Focus on behavior.

Communication is successful when the audience knows exactly what action to take next. Use short declarative sentences to clearly identify desired behaviors. Focus more on the behavior than a complicated explanation about why it is important.

6. Supplement with pictures.
Audiences may not read your entire materials, but they will look at them. Use visuals to highlight key messages and important actions. Be sure to use images that are appropriate and relevant to your audience. Pre-testing (step #2) will help you judge their effectiveness.

7. Make written communication look easy to read.
Make your documents more inviting by using basic graphic design principles. Use lots of white space rather than big blocks of text. Organize related information together with clearly marked headers. Recent IZTA Updates have more tips on creating easy to read materials.

Health literacy is an important and complex topic. The above tips are just a start. Please visit for more detailed resources. For more information on Health Literacy Month please visit

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