This article on the role of pictures in health literacy underscores the fact that plain language is about more than just the words we use – it’s about the way we present information, too. Layout and design is just as important as language, and can have a huge effect on the usability of communications materials.
There’s often a big focus on reading/grade level as a measure of how “plain language” a document is, but grade level only tells part of the story.
Are graphics and figures used to highlight key messages? Is the document signposted with headings and subheadings that help the reader find what they need to know? Is there judicious use of white space?
Design IS important. That’s why indices like Flesch-Kinkaid, SMOG and other readability formulas are rarely reliable as a standalone assessment of plain language or usability.
Ken Thorlton, SVP, Creative Director, of HealthEd.