Five-step methodology for evaluation and adaptation of print patient health information to meet the <5th grade readability criterion

Felicia Hill-Briggs, Kristina P. Schumann, Ogechi Dike

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Background: In the setting of declining US literacy, new policies include use of clear communication and low-literacy accessibility practices with all patients. Reliable methods for adapting health information to meet such criteria remain a pressing need. Objectives: To report method validation (study 1) and method replication (study 2) procedures and outcomes for a 5-step method for evaluating and adapting print health information to meet the current low-literacy criterion of <5th grade readability. MATERIALS:: Sets of 18 and 11 publicly disseminated patient education documents developed by a university affiliated medical center. Measures: Three low-literacy criteria were strategically targeted for efficient, systematic evaluation, and text modification to meet a <5th grade reading level: sentence length <15 words, writing in active voice, and use of common words with multisyllabic words (>2-3 syllables) minimized or avoided. Interrater reliability for the document evaluations was determined. Results: Training in the methodology resulted in interrater reliability of 0.99-1.00 in study 1 and 0.98-1.00 in study 2. Original documents met none of the targeted low literacy criteria. In study 1, following low-literacy adaptation, mean reading grade level decreased from 10.4±1.8 to 3.8±0.6 (P<0.0001), with consistent achievement of criteria for words per sentence, passive voice, and syllables per word. Study 2 demonstrated similar achievement of all target criteria, with a resulting decrease in mean reading grade level from 11.0±1.8 to 4.6±0.3 (P<0.0001). Conclusions: The 5-step methodology proved teachable and efficient. Targeting a limited set of modifiable criteria was effective and reliable in achieving <5th grade readability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)294-301
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Care
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • cardiovascular diseases
  • diabetes
  • educational status
  • evaluation
  • learning
  • lifestyle
  • literacy
  • patient education
  • readability
  • self care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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