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Center for Health Literacy Promotion Blog

Promoting Health Literacy with Beginnings Guides Part 8 Lists & Charts

This segment continues our Suitability Assessment of Beginnings Guides using the SAMinstrument. It will complete the review of graphic elements begun in Part 6 looking at cover graphics and continued in Part 7 on illustrations and captions. Today we consider lists, tables, charts and forms.
Lists can facilitate learning if they engage the reader to interact with the information, make choices, and take action.  To meet this goal, the purpose of the list must be made immediately clear through a headline or subhead (see Road Signs) and brief instructions, as needed.
Example: Beginnings Pregnancy Guide (Page 65) includes a list of what to take to the hospital or birthing center for childbirth. This is important content to increase confidence and reduce anxiety,  especially for the many women for whom childbirth is their first hospital experience.   “Pack you bag” is a clear simple headline that clarifies the purpose of the list. Two short introductory sentences tell when to pack and indicate the list includes “all you will need.”  Check boxes are included to encourage interaction.  The list is broken up with a subhead: “Pack for baby”,  indicating the next appropriate action.
Provide instructions step-by-step
Explanations and directions are essential.  When presenting how-to information, a bulleted list is easier and quicker to read and use than a paragraph.  An example clarifies the instruction and instills confidence. When preparing instructions, think through who will use the information and how will they use it. Where are they likely to be when the want and need the information. What might they be doing? Who might be with them?What might get in the way? What might be confusing?  What format will be most accessible? Focus on what-to-do. Be specific. Omit all reference to what not to do (it is equivalent to static).
Example: Every pregnant woman wonders how she will know she is in labor and  what to do when labor begins.  Beginnings Pregnancy Guide (page 72-73 ) presents step-by-step instructions under the headline “Are you in labor? Walk to find out.”  Steps are numbered and presented in logical order: 1.Notice contractions. 2. Walk  3. Time your contractions. 4. Call your doctor. Key information is highlighted: “True labor contractions get longer, stronger and closer together” . Instructions for calling include who to call, when to call, what questions to anticipate, what to say, what if you get an answering service, what if you cannot call; and finally, what to expect at the hospital.  A photo shows a woman walking with hands on pregnant belly, noticing her contractions.
Test essential instructions with a few representative learners with no prior experience and little knowledge of your topic. Invite them to read your instructions and tell, or better show you what they would do.  You will find out quickly if the directions are too brief to use the graphic or follow  the directions independently in likely circumstances. For Beginnings,our standard is that the learner can find and follow the necessary instructions in the middle of the night while throwing up.
Beginnings gets a Superior rating on the SAM for providing step-by-step directions with examples that build self-efficacy. Graphics--lists, charts, tables, forms-- presented without explanations are not suitable in health education materials.
NEXT: Typography: type sizes, fonts, caps, color
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