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Clear & Simple: Developing Effective Print Materials for Low-Literate Readers

  • Updated: 02/27/2003

Appendix 1: Content/Style


  • The material is interactive and allows for audience involvement.
Publications designed to produce behavioral change need to help readers get involved with the information and take concrete action. A variety of devices can help make a product an interactive educational tool.

Example from How to Take Care of Your Baby Before Birth gives the reader a contact for more information.

Example: How to Take Care of Your Baby Before Birth.



  • The material presents "how-to" information.
Buying Food and Eating Out gives concrete advice for making the behavior change the booklet suggests: cutting down on salt.

A Mammogram Could Save Your Life tells the reader how to find out about where to get a mammogram.

Example One: Buying Food and Eating Out

EATING AWAY FROM HOME

Today people eat lots of foods away from home-- at school, in restaurants, and other places. When you eat out, remember the food will usually already have salt in it, so don't add more. Using sauces, gravies, salad dressings, pickles and seasonings such as catsup, mustard, and soy sauce adds more salt to foods. Leaving these off can make quite a difference! Many restaurants, if you ask them, will cook plain foods without adding salt.
Teenagers often go to fast food restaurants. Some of the foods may have lots of salt. But you can cut back when you eat there, too. You can:
  • Order your sandwich or burger plain without the catsup, mustard and pickles, or try to leave at least one off.
  • Eat your French fries and other foods without putting salt on them.
  • Learn which foods contain more sodium. For example, burgers with cheese contain more sodium than plain burgers. Milkshakes contain more sodium than plain milk, French fries without salt are low in sodium, and orange juice has almost no sodium. Several fast food restaurant chains know how much sodium is in their different foods and can give you this information. Ask for it.
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Example Two: A Mammogram Could Save Your Life




  • Peer language is used whenever appropriate to increase personal identification and improve readability.
  • Words are familiar to the reader. Any new words are defined clearly.
  • Sentences are simple, specific, direct, and written in the active voice.
Each of the examples features short sentences in the active voice. The pieces rely on peer language, using common words such as "having sex," "germs," and "causes death instead of technical terms such as intercourse, bacteria, and mortality. When a booklet does introduce a technical term-- "menopause," it appears in parenthesis after the more commonly used "change of life."

Example One: If You've Ever Had VD, Learn About AIDS



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Example Two: Keep Your Food Safe

Wood cutting boards are very hard to clean.
Germs hide in the cracks. Use a plastic cutting board instead.

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Example Three: The Pap Test: It Can Save Your Life!

Who needs to have a Pap test?
You do if:
- You are over 18; or
- You are 18 or under and have sex
There is no upper age limit for the Pap test.
Even women who have gone through the change
of life (menopause) need a Pap test every year.



  • Each idea is clear and logically sequenced (according to audience logic).
  • The number of concepts per piece is limited.

Having a Pelvic Exam and Pap Test
uses arrows to sequence the steps of the pelvic exam, thus preparing the reader for what to expect from the exam. The booklet limits the number of concepts by focusing on the pelvic exam.


Example: Having a Pelvic Exam and Pap Test


  • The material uses concrete examples rather than abstract concepts.
These passages tell readers what the terms "run in families" and "cooking until done" mean in concrete terms.

Example One: Diabetes and American Indians

Does high blood sugar run in families?


Yes. Brothers, sisters and children of people with
diabetes tend to get high blood sugar.

You can control blood sugar.

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Example Two: Keep Your Food Safe

Raw meat, raw poultry, raw seafood, and raw
eggs can make you sick. Cook them until they are done:



  • The text highlights and summarizes important points.


The Pap Test: It Can Save Your Life uses color, large type, and underlining to highlight and summarize the main message.

Example: The Pap Test: It Can Save Your Life