Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective



Governments and corporations have been trying hard in recent years to write laws, instructions and contracts in plain language. Some succeed better than others.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has a free download, “Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective.” While the guidelines are intended for those who write for the needs of CMS audiences, they are an excellent resource for families, friends, community organizations, and memoir writers. The principles for effective communications can apply to any writer for any audience.

The toolkit has a table of contents and eleven parts. They can be downloaded as a complete set or as separate parts. Topics include using a reader-centered approach, guidelines for writing and design including the Web, materials for older adults, and a section of before-and-after examples.

The toolkit includes examples for “brochures and pamphlets, booklets, flyers, fact sheets, posters, bookmarks, application forms, comparison charts, postcards, instruction sheets, and questionnaires.” This is information that can be applied to any type of writing.

The toolkit cautions on using grade-level readability formulas which “are used to measure difficulty of vocabulary and sentences in written materials.” Such formulas tend to be narrow and limiting, the toolkit states.

In the section titled Guidelines for Writing, the toolkit includes how-to-do-it information on what readers want and need to know, using plenty of headings and subheadings, pacing readers, using an active voice, and using a conversational style.

In the section titled Material for Older Adults, the toolkit includes information on how aging affects literacy skills, helping those with vision limitations, and helping those with declining cognitive skills.

Go here to download the toolkit: www.cms.gov/WrittenMaterialsToolkit/

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