How to Improve the Readability of Your Promotional Materials


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Twenty percent of American adults are functionally illiterate. This figure can be higher in minority populations who have had limited educational opportunities or who have language differences. To design materials for this group, keep in mind the principles listed below and those featured in the table:


  • Less is more. Focus your instructions on the critical things you want people to know or do about their arthritis, and omit everything that is extraneous.

  • When conveying complex information, break the information down into small components and provide review, feedback and questions after each section.   

  • Suggest simple memory devices to help people remember the key points.

  • Provide the opportunity for feedback by encouraging the users to answer questions, provide examples or relate their experiences to the information being provided.

  • To simplify your language, use a conversational style and an active voice (you vs. the client). Use short words and sentences. Provide phonetic spellings of technical, medical terms.

  • Put the most important ideas in the beginning of the paragraph.

  • Use visuals that show a clear message and are relevant to the target group. When appropriate, include sketches of people with whom the group will identify. Avoid caricatures or illustrations of people in stereotypical roles. Show positive, active roles.

  • Avoid using abbreviations.

  • Design a layout that allows for as much white space as possible. This helps people who have difficulty reading concentrate attention on your message. The layouts should encourage the eye to move from left to right, avoiding vertical or diagonal lines, which are more confusing. The use of arrows, circles and underlining can help focus attention on important messages.

  • Use upper and lower case letters. This is easier to read than all capitals.

  • When possible, use black print on yellow paper, which is the easiest to read. Black print on white paper is a close second in readability. Pinks, blues and greens are hard to read. Dull finishes are better than glossy finishes.

Do you habla español?

  • When designing materials for a non-English speaking group, use their native language.
  • When choosing a dialect for target audiences with broad linguistic diversity. For example, for Spanish-speaking groups, consider using a standard dialect. However, if developing material exclusively for a local audience, be sensitive to any particular linguistic characteristics or idioms.
  • Consider using bilingual materials for promotional items, posters and mailings when the language preferences are unknown or varied.
  • Avoid direct, literal translations of existing English materials. These may be insulting or show a lack of cultural sensitivity. When preparing a translation, pull out the key ideas and concepts and ask an expert translator who understands the culture to do the translation. Select your translator carefully, since not everyone who speaks the language well may be capable of grammatically correct translations.
  • Use translation resources such as local universities with foreign language departments, professional translating services such as Berlitz and volunteers from organizations that serve minorities.
  • To ensure that your translation accurately reflects the original concepts, have your material back-translated into the literal English words.




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