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Plain & Simple: A health literacy project for Iowa


How important is readability?

Health literacy advocates are fond of highlighting the importance of the "readability" of written health communication. Also, people who work in public health have been known to target a certain reading "grade level." While readability is certainly a pillar to good written health communication, you should also consider other measures of effectiveness.

Before using the readability calculators on the Plain & Simple website, please ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I spent enough time planning my document? Am I sure of my communication goal? Have I strategically chosen my messages? Have I put my audience first?
  • Does all the information help my audience? Have I cut out things my audience probably doesn't need to know? Is the tone encouraging and inviting? Does it avoid jargon and use plain language?
  • Is my design clean and attractive? Does it make good use of "white space"? Does it draw my audience in? Does it tap into their interests and culture?
  • Have I designed a field testing plan? Have I identified focus groups to provide feedback? Are those focus groups representative of my audience?

There's certainly a lot to think about. You may have to ask yourself some of these questions again as you fine tune your document. For now, let's go to the calculators!

Readability Calculators and Formulas

What can readability formulas do for you?*

  • Readability formulas (and the online calculators below) can serve as early warning systems to tell you that your writing is too dense. These tools for quick, on-the-spot assessments are great "screening devices" for eliminating dense drafts and give rise to revisions.
  • Some consider readability tests useful in tracking improvements in written documents. They provide objective, quantifiable measures of text simplification.

* For more information about readability, read Cheryl Stephens interesting essay "All About Readability."

Combined Tools

Related Resources