Written Communication

Written Materials

Handouts, pamphlets and other supplemental materials are effective ways of educating patients, but only if they are easy to read and, in the case of instructions, easy to follow. Illness and injury can erode literacy levels, so never use written materials to replace direct communication, especially in the case of instructions.

  • Make sure the material is appropriate for the audience (i.e. give adolescents pamphlets featuring teens not young children; don’t give something with small print to a senior citizen)
  • Go over the materials with your patient and mark important passages
  • Materials should be written at a sixth-grade reading level or lower, about the same as a local newspaper
  • Content should be
    • Limited to three health/medical concepts
    • Prioritized
    • Focused on what the patient needs to do when he or she leaves the office (theoretical information can be placed at the end of the document)
  • Use these simple guidelines when creating and evaluating written materials:
    • Text
      • Uses active voice, conversational style and gives examples
      • Is written in plain language (all medical terms should be defined)
      • Uses short words and short sentences
    • Design
      • The overall look is clean, with plenty of white space
      • The text is left justified, the type size at least 12 points; avoid underlining, all-caps, hyphenation and italics
      • Key concepts are highlighted and cartoons or drawings should be used to support important information