About i-Base guides
i-Base treatment guides use non-technical language
This is so more people can easily understand the information. Notes for how to write for a wider readership are included below.
All guides are available in print and online as web pages and as PDF files.
Print copies can be ordered online. These are free to individuals and UK-based clinics and support groups.
We like our resources to be translated – now into more than 35 languages.
Tamslations can include adapting the text when this is needed. See: Adapting i-Base materials (i-base.info/adapting-materials).
Guidelines for community information
- Information needs to be clear, concise, accurate, relevant and up-to-date.
- All information should have the published date.
- Exact language should explain each point. Each word is important.
- The word order in each sentence should be the most direct. (See below).
- When there is more than one treatment choice or explanation, we explain the differences.
- State clearly when something is not known or when evidence is limited.
- Facts are usually more helpful than general statements, especially to quantify adjectives.
- Instead of “some people” or “most people” it is more useful to write “1 in 10 people” etc. This format is easier to understand than “10% of people”.
- Instead of “soon” or “quickly”, give a rough idea in hours/days/weeks/years etc. Does “soon” mean today or sometime this month?
- When referring to a test result being “high” or “low”, quantify this and include a reference range.
- Information should be clear to read and easy to understand. It should be easy to read for as many people as possible.
- This involves taking care with how it is written.
- Many people do not have high literacy.
- Most people do not have formal medical training.
- English is not the first language for many people.
- Information is easier to understand if it uses simple short sentences. We aim for 12 to 15 words as a maximum length. It is difficult to understand a sentence with 30, 40, 50 or more words. A long sentence include is more difficult to follow.
- Reading age of 12 is a good guide for medical information or information about health. This is similar to tabloid newspapers. Depending on how this is calculated, a reading age of 12 will include 70 to 90% of adults.
Words, sentences and paragraphs
Easy ways to increase how many people will be able to read your writing.
- Use words with 1-2 syllables rather than longer words.
- Use short sentences. Aim for 10-12 words on average. Use shorter sentences to make the text more clear and lively. No sentence should need more than 15 words.
- Use short paragraphs. Ideally 1-3 sentences per paragraph, using short sentences. Each paragraph to make one clear point.
- Include space between paragraphs so people can breathe as they read.
- Include a balance of space on every page to be less text-heavy.
- Use the active tense rather than passive voice or tense. Active sentences are easier to understand.
- If technical terms are important, explain these in non technical language.
- Include a glossary.
- Personal stories can make the information much more real.
- Check readability score online for any text (see below)
- A larger heading makes each section clear.
- Consider an introduction paragraph in a larger typeface or bold type.
- Use short subheadings to sign post through the text.
- Use bold formatting and/or a larger type subheadings that for body text.
- Text size should ideally be 12 point (12 pt).
- Leave space between lines with an additional half space between paragraphs.
- Leave space on the page – no more than 75% text, 50% is even better.
- Include pictures.
- Include graphs and tables if information would be clearer in this format.
- Include summaries with bullet points for conclusions.
- If printing in colour, ensure good contrast for text. Do not use white text against light tone backgrounds. Do not use dark text against dark backgrounds.
- Test a colour leaflet with a black and white photocopy. If anything can’t be easily read, the contrast needs to be changed.
Readability scores and plain English
There are several ways to measure how easy information is to read. One of the most widely used is the Flesch-Kincaid readability ease score.
The Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score usually ranges from 0 (very difficult) to 100 (very easy).
It is calculated using a formula that includes looking at the average length or words, sentences and paragraph. There is also a conversion to US school reading grade. (Sixth grade is about 11-12 year old reading age and 12th grade is about 18 year old reading age).
Reading ease scores
- 80–90 is ideal (11-12 year old reading age – US 6th grade). This can be difficult to reach if the text has lots of medical terms.
- 60–70 is a reading age of 13-15 and above 70 should be a minimum.
- 30 and lower is graduate level (technical). Negative scores are possible.
i-Base guides aim for a reading age of 12 (US grade 6-7).
We aim for a reading score of 70 or higher.
This is so they reach the widest readership. Many people are not confident in reading technical information. It is not helpful to assume high literacy. Many people do not have English as a first language.
The following are a few of the many free online readability tools.
hemingwayapp.com – Click the “write” button to paste in text at the top of the page. You can edit online to see changes. Also has an App.
online-utility.org – Basic facility to paste text into an online.
readable.io – Good site but that now requires a login.
They let you cut and paste text and produced instant scores. Some sites let you edit the text to see how this changes the readability score. But, each site is likely to score exactly the same text slightly differently.
For example, the information on this web page has a Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score of 74 and reading grade of 5.2. There are an average of 9.3 words per sentence. Only 2% of sentences use the passive tense.
Microsoft Word can calculate the Flesch-Kincaid reading scores. This option in the spelling and grammar menu is an easy way to check text. The settings can also highlight grammar, such as passive sentences.
Last updated: 20 March 2020.