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Health Literacy: A Guide

In plain language, health literacy is “a person being able to understand and take the right action to make good health choices.”

Assessing Pre-existing Materials


  • Is the information accurate and up-to-date?
  • Does it focus on the key, most necessary information? (And avoid extraneous information?)
  • Have any important points been left out?
  • Are concrete examples given to illustrate general ideas?
  • Does the content take the audience's culture and circumstances into account?
  • Does the material call on the reader to take some specific, appropriate action?


  • Is there a clear core message, supported by a few (3-4) main points?
  • Is the information presented in easy-to-understand "chunks" or sections?
  • Are the main points presented in a logical order that will make sense to the audience?
  • Are headers used to direct the reader to the main points?
  • Is there a summary of key points?

Source Credibility

  • Does the material's author/producer have credibility with the target audience?
  • Does the spokesperson or other source shown in the material have credibility with the target audience?

Language and Tone

  • Is everyday language used?
  • Are action words and the active voice used?
  • Is the tone friendly and conversational, with the reader treated as a partner?
  • Does the material use short words and short sentences, without sounding choppy?
  • Are unfamiliar terms, abbreviations, and acronyms defined?
  • If slang or figures of speech are used, does the target audience know their meaning?
  • What reading level does readability testing show?
  • Does the material avoid preaching, condescending, or blaming?
  • Does the material avoid using fear tactics?

Cultural Competence

  • Is the material written in the preferred language of the target audience?
  • If translated, is the translation accurate and well-done?
  • Are demeaning labels or stereotypes avoided?
  • Is the material appropriate for the audience's age and gender?
  • Does the material show respect for the target audience's values, customs, beliefs, and prior knowledge?
  • Are the people depicted representative of the target audience?


  • Do design elements (like headers, bullets, and boxes) help draw attention to the main points? Does the material have an accessible, open look with plenty of white space?
  • Is the font (typeface) clear and clean, and large enough (12 points or larger)?
  • Do visuals support the text and are they placed close to the text they relate to?
  • Do visuals show the correct way to do something?
  • Are confusing graphs, charts, and statistics avoided?
  • Is there good contrast between paper and ink?
  • Is the material visually attractive?

Overall Impression

  • What are the strengths of the material?
  • What are the weaknesses of the material?

Source:  Assessing Pre-Existing Communication Materials at 

Guidelines for Culturally-Appropriate Materials to Promote Health Equity

The National CLAS Standards:  The National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care aim to improve health care quality and advance health equity by establishing a framework for organizations to serve the nation's increasingly diverse communities.

A Way with Words:  Guidelines for Writing Oral Health Materials for Audiences with Limited Literacy:  from the National Maternal and Child Oral Health Resource Center, Georgetown University


For more resources on culture and health literacy, visit the CORE Library's Guide to Cultural Competence.

Guidelines for Developing Easy-to-Read Materials