How confident are you that your communications meet the readability requirements? With the increase in communications regardless of channel, the use of plain language and materials that are easy to understand when conversing with one’s customers are especially important.
Documents and messaging from health insurance companies and financial institutions are commonly overly-academic tone, long sentences, passive construction and other content that result in difficult-to-understand documentation
“CMS audiences” can be culturally, linguistically, and demographically diverse, with low literacy skills. An excess of $230 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low literacy. Nearly half of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information. Lack of understanding impedes adults’ ability to make appropriate health decisions and increases the likelihood that they’ll incur higher health costs.
The right communications at an accessible and understandable reading level, could be the key to increasing engagement among members and fostering better health outcomes.
So how do you control the reading level of your customer communications?
In written communications, the primary way to ensure clarity is to focus on readability. It is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. Readability has to do with both presentation (how text looks on a page) and content (word choices and sentence structures). When you focus on readability, you may increase the chance your target audience will read and interact with your content.
We consider readability checking to be incredibly important. There are a variety of formulas used to measure readability by grade level, the most popular of which include the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level, the Gunning-Fog Score, the Coleman-Liau Index and the SMOG Index. These formulas use determinants such as text analytics like letter, word and syllable counts; sentence complexity stats like adjective, noun and adverb counts; reading time and other factors. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also offers a toolkit for making written materials clear and effective.
Written material comes in different shapes and sizes and is used for different purposes. Examples include brochures and pamphlets, booklets, flyers, fact sheets, posters, bookmarks, application forms, comparison charts, surveys, postcards, instruction sheets, and questionnaires. Regardless of literacy level, people read differently online than they do when reading printed text. Studies have shown that people scan web pages and only read about 18% of what’s on the page. The same studies say if you convert print text to the web, you should reduce content by about 50%.
Web users don’t necessarily read from the top to bottom or word for word. They often look for specific information while trying to complete a task. When the content is too wordy you may lose engagement with the web user. To help consider how the text is formulated and what words you’re using. Consumers can get confused by jargon and complex issues. Using long words could result in readers missing essential words that follow, which can affect interpretation. Leverage shorter words and sentences to present content in a more user-friendly way.
Clear communications make a difference in every industry. Moreover, it makes sense to pay attention to the reading level of your communications and take steps to ensure that they are written with easy comprehension in mind. After all, what happens when people can’t understand the communications you send them? Do they engage your call center? Or worse, do they lose their trust for your brand and switch to a competitor?