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Designing and Implementing an Effective Tobacco Counter-Marketing Campaign

Readability Pretesting

Readability formulas often are used to assess the reading level of materials. Reading level refers to the number of years of education required for a reader to understand a written passage. Some experts suggest aiming for a level that is two to five grades lower than the average grade your audience has achieved, to account for a probable decline in reading skills over time. Others say a third- to fifth-grade level is frequently appropriate for readers with low literacy.

When the target audience is the general population, keep publications as simple as

possible to increase reader comprehension. However, if publications are meant for a more educated, professional audience, simple materials might be considered insulting.

You’ll need to decide which reading level is appropriate for your materials. Then use one or more readability formulas to determine whether your text is written at that level. Fr ,

Flesch, FOG, and SMOG are among the most commonly used readability formulas (NCI 2002). Applying these formulas is a simple process that can be done manually or with a computer program in only a few minutes. (See

the National Cancer Institute’s Making Health Communication Programs Work: A Planner’s Guide [2002] for more information on readability formulas.)

Typicall , readability formulas measure the difficulty of the vocabulary used and the average sentence length. Readability software such as RightWriter and Grammatik analyze a document’s grammar, style, word usage, and punctuation and then assign a reading level. Some popular software programs such as Microsoft Word include a readability-testing function. However, these formulas don’t measure the reader’s level of comprehension. Researchers in one study suggest three principles for the use of readability formulas (NCI 1994):

  • 1.

    Use readability formulas only in concert with other means of assessing the effectiveness of the material.

  • 2.

    Use a formula only when the readers for whom a text is intended are similar to those on whom the formula was validated.

  • 3.

    Do not write a text with readability formulas in mind.

Chapter 3: Gaining and Using Target Audience Insights


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