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Promoting Health Literacy with Beginnings Guides Part 5: Road Signs


This continues our discussion of what makes materials easier or harder to read,
and more important, to use.  Our discussion guide is the SAM Suitability Assessment
of Materials. We are using the instrument to assess the suitability ofBeginnings
Guides for promoting maternal health literacy. This Part 5 wraps up discussion of
factors that determine the literacy demand of information: readability,writing style
and sentence construction, vocabulary, and today, advance organizers, or road signs.
 
Road signs reduce anxiety, aid learning
Working through information on a tough subject is like driving a rental car in unfamiliar
territory. You need road signs to know where you are now, and what’s ahead. Without
them, it’s easy to feel anxious, get confused and go a long way in the wrong direction.
Road signs enable drivers and readers to more easily find what they are looking for, and
arrive there focused and prepared.
 
Road signs in information -- on paper or on screen -- are headlines and subheads. They
alert the reader to expect what’s coming next and prepare her to think about (process
and understand)  the announced topic.  Without good subheads, the reader is likely to
bypass the information or miss the point.  
 
Subheads break up a sea of type
A text-heavy page can be intimidating and discouraging to anyone, and especially those
unaccustomed to reading by learning. Judicious use of subheads, in bold type, make a
page look more readable, an essential first step toward being read.
 
A good easy-to-read sentences contain one thought. An easy to read paragraph contains
two or three thoughts about the same topic. A subhead announces what is coming in
the next one to three paragraphs. 
 
Put a verb in it. A good subhead is more than a label. It should be a short basic sentence.
You can tell your subheads are useful if, when the reader takes in  only the headline
and subheads on a page, she gets the most important points. Sometimes you will need
levels of heads and subheads. Note that this section starts with a subhead, in bold type,
on its own line, with no punctuation. Then this paragraph starts with a secondary subhead.
The topic is still  subheads, but  now we are talking about a different aspect of subheads.
The second-level subhead is in bold type, but inline with the text and using a period to
separate it from the text.
 
Be consistent. On the road, drivers expect freeway signs to look different from state
highway signs and local street signs.   If they were inconsistent they would be distracting,
less informative, harder to learn from. Navigating through a page is equally aided by
consistency.
 
SAM says at least half of topics must have a road sign.   Beginnings Guides gets a Superior
rating since nearly all topics are announced just before the reader gets to them. 
 
For example, take a look at the Infant Care Guide in Book 6 of the Beginnings Pregnancy
Guide. Starting on p 86, the text leads the parent/reader through an exploration of their
new baby’s body.  The previous paragraphs’ subheads are “Get to know your baby” and
“Do not give Baby your cold”. So now the reader understands why she would explore the
baby’s body and, we hope, she has washed her hands, and is ready for the next section:
“Explore Baby’s body”.
 
Then, uh-oh, a label for a subhead. In this case the label functions on its own to tell
parents where they are in the exploration. Body parts are labeled consistently and 
the discussion moves logically from head to toe. Second level subheads are sentences
that highlight things to notice. Under “Eyes”,  the second level subheads are “Baby
may have blood spots”, “Baby might look cross-eyed”, “Baby may cry without tears”
and “Yellowish discharge from the corner of the eyes is normal”.  Each of these
announces brief information about something that mothers said they worry or wonder
about.
 
To make information easier to read, lead your reader through the text with good
subheads.

Next: A new section on graphics starts with the Cover
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