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Promoting Health Literacy with Beginnings Guides Part 3: Writing Style & Sentence Construction

We are using the SAM -Suitability Assessment of Materials to assess the suitability
of Beginnings Guides to promote maternal health literacy. So the Guides need to
fit the audience, US pregnant women including those with low resources and
limited literacy, and to facilitate use of health information and services. In Part
1, we covered factors related to content. Part2 addressed readability. This Part
3 addresses two additional factors that determine the literacy demand of information,
writing style and sentence construction.
Writing Style is Conversational
Easy-to-use health information uses a conversational tone. Read aloud the information
you are reviewing  It should sound like something you would actually say to a person
sitting with you. Some clinicians may pan a conversational style as “unscientific” or
“unprofessional”, a reflection of professional training that rewards multisyllabic latinized
terms in long  complex sentences like this one as demonstration of deep knowledge.
But that is not the point here.
The point is to make the information easy to understand, personalize, and apply in
real life. Conversational tone is familiar and expected, so quickly grasped and not
intimidating. Rather it invites reflection and interaction.
Conversation nearly always uses the active voice: “ Jason hit the ball” is active. I can see
the action in my mind’s eye.  “The ball was hit” is passive; it creates an incomplete mental
picture. It does not engage the reader.
Conversation uses short simple sentences, and sometimes incomplete sentences. No
embedded information. In the first paragraph above, the third sentence intentionally
contains multiple phases and embeds mostly irrelevant information about professional
training demonstrating that long involved sentences and extraneous facts slow reading
and reduce comprehension. So instead of  “Patients are advised to take vitamins daily”;
say it the regular way: “Take your vitamins every day”.
Beginnings Guides get a Superior rating for using conversational style and simple
sentences throughout. Take a look.
Sentence Construction: Context first
The way the sentence is built makes a big difference in comprehension. Readers recall
the last thing they read, that is, the end of the sentence. Starting with what the reader
already knows, provides context and increases understanding.
Start with the context - the part the reader already knows: “While you are pregnant....”;
end with new information: “...your uterus is big enough to hold the baby. Right after
birth, it shrinks to the size of a grapefruit.” (Beginnings Pregnancy Guide Book 6 page 77)
If I state the new information first, the reader is likely to miss or forget it.
SAM gives an Adequate rating to materials that present the context first half the time.
Beginnings Guides get a Superior rating for consistently providing context before new
Next: Vocabulary & Road Signs
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