Just because we say something, just because we write it, just because we know this information is important does not necessarily mean that the person we are communicating with will be able to read, relate to, and follow this information. It is vital that we confirm that messages are truly understood.
This month’s How-To-Tip is about using feedback to confirm understanding of print and web information. It is important to use feedback throughout the writing process, from the initial idea and planning through to publication and revision.
Here are some tips for using feedback to confirm understanding:
- Invite people to share their opinions. When you ask others for feedback on written materials, make clear it is about testing your writing and not their reading or comprehension skills. A good way to begin is by saying “Will you help me?” Let them know how you plan to use their feedback and perhaps offer to share updated versions.
- Use feedback throughout the writing process. A great place to start getting feedback is at the beginning of projects. Your intended readers can be really helpful about topics to include. As you write, continue asking for feedback to clarify your message. At the end of the project, ask for feedback again so you know what to do differently next time.
- Know your intended audience. This includes their learning abilities and information needs. For instance, when writing about a certain medical procedure you could use feedback to learn which topics to address. Beyond explaining what to do, readers may be interested in how much this procedure costs, whether to expect pain, or how long it takes to recover. Then write about that.
- Build feedback into your project plan. Admittedly, it takes time to get reader feedback. There may also be some costs, such as for focus groups, user testing, or financial incentives. My recommendation is to consider the expense of not doing so. As the subject matter expert and/or medical writer, you are so familiar with the content that you cannot objectively assess whether your words and concepts make sense to others.
Last month’s How-To Tip was about using teach-back.
To learn more:
- Health Literacy Out Loud #34: Creating usable, useful health websites for readers at all levels. Interview with Stacy Robison. (March 23, 2010). [Podcast]. Osborne H, host.
- Health Literacy Out Loud #19: Communicating clearly on the web. Interview with Janice (Ginny) Redish. (August 3, 2009). [Podcast]. Osborne H, host.
- Osborne H. (2005). What makes web sites patient-friendly? In other words . . . . On Call.
- Redish J. (2012). Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works.2nd edition. Morgan Kaufman.
This How-To Tip is adapted from Helen Osborne’s book, Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Third Edition.