Written Information

Written information supports many aspects of patient and public involvement. Information about current services, and about future needs, is the first step in participation around service change and other service plans. Patients and their families also need information about an individual's condition and care. This enables them to:

  • be part of planning their own care or (with permission or agreement) their relative's care
  • take a more active role in keeping themselves well, managing long-term conditions and where possible preventing or minimising future ill-health
  • make best use of services.

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How to do it

Preparation

  • Be clear what the information is intended to achieve and who it is for. If there are multiple purposes, it will probably be best to have several items.
  • Consider the best format to reach the target group – leaflets, posters, websites, large print, audio tape. It may be wise to use a range of formats.
  • Material should be developed in consultation with service users from the earliest stages – testing for legibility, literacy and possibly also for its distribution. In general, keep it as simple as possible.
  • The planning stage is crucial. Mistakes cannot be cheaply corrected once large quantities of material have been printed. Proofreading and correcting is your responsibility, not the printer's.
  • The format of the written information should be in accordance with Link opens in a new windowRoyal National Institute for the Blind's guidelines.
  • When drafting information, use questions gathered from those who have experience of the service, illness or condition as prompts for how to present it.
  • People who have special communication problems should be considered when you are planning information. There are ways of conveying information that do not depend on written English, e.g. Easy Read material using graphics.
  • Consider how your material can most effectively reach its intended readers. Possibilities include mail shots, door-to-door distribution, noticeboards and working with other organisations such as community groups, or with schools for 'schoolbag drops'.

Pros

  • This is a widespread and widely understood form of communication.
  • You can involve service users in creating your communication with the wider population of service users.

Cons

  • Credibility depends on producing material to a high standard.
  • Care must be taken to consider the barriers that many people face in using written materials.

Resources

  • Design and print costs; large print runs are most economical.
  • For material that will need to be regularly updated, or only needs a small number of copies, you can consider well laid out material produced on a normal office printer although this may also involve software costs.
  • Staff time for planning the material.
  • Expenses for some patients or people from a community group to help plan and design the material.

Top Tips

  • Avoid using references that will date quickly.
  • The average reading age in Scotland is around 11 years. One of the most popular newspapers has a readership age of nine and-a-half years. It is possible to use medical terminology as long as it is well defined, but avoid jargon.
  • Consider designing material so that it is easy for the reader to skim for basic information and then return later for more detail.
  • If language is likely to be an issue, remember that it is expensive to get all information translated into several different languages and different formats. Consider who you are targeting and ask them to suggest how the information can easily be understood by those you are trying to reach.

Sources and further information