Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective

The  Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective is a health literacy resource from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  As shown below, this 11-part Toolkit provides a detailed and comprehensive set of tools to help you make written material in printed formats easier for people to read, understand, and use.

  • Toolkit Part 1:   About this Toolkit and how it can help you
  • Toolkit Part 2:   Using a reader-centered approach to develop and test written material
  • Toolkit Part 3:   Summary List of the "Toolkit Guidelines for Writing and Design"
  • Toolkit Part 4:   Understanding and using the "Toolkit Guidelines for Writing"
  • Toolkit Part 5:   Understanding and using the "Toolkit Guidelines for Graphic Design"
  • Toolkit Part 6:   How to collect and use feedback from readers
  • Toolkit Part 7:   Using readability formulas: A cautionary note
  • Toolkit Part 8:   Will your written material be on a website?
  • Toolkit Part 9:   Things to know if your written material is for older adults
  • Toolkit Part 10: "Before and after" example: Using this Toolkit's guidelines to revise a brochure
  • Toolkit Part 11: Understanding and using the "Toolkit Guidelines for Culturally Appropriate Translation"

How to view this Toolkit

Toolkit Parts 1-3 and 7-11 each consists of a single document.  Toolkit Parts 4-6 each consists of several documents denoting chapters.  These documents are offered here as downloads.

  • To view a more detailed outline of the topics that are covered in each part or chapter of the Toolkit, click the Toolkit Table of Contents in the navigation bar on the left side of this Overview page.
  • To view a specific part or chapter of the Toolkit, click the part number in the navigation bar on the left side of this Overview page.

What do we mean by "written material"? 

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, postcards, instruction sheets, and questionnaires.  Since reading something that's on a computer is very different from reading something in a printed format, this Toolkit covers written material on a website only in a limited way (see Toolkit Part 8, Will your written material be on a website?).

What audiences are the Toolkit guidelines geared toward?

The focus of this Toolkit is on creating written material intended for use by people eligible for or enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children's Health Insurance Program -- and by people who serve or assist them, such as family members and friends, outreach workers, agency staff, community organizations, and care providers.  While the guidelines and advice we offer are geared to the needs of CMS audiences, most of them reflect general principles for effective communication of information that can be applied to any audience.

Are the Toolkit guidelines mandatory?

No.  CMS offers this Toolkit as practical assistance to help you make your written material clear and effective, not as requirements from CMS or as hard and fast rules that apply to every situation.

Can I save, print, reproduce, or share this Toolkit?

You may save or print all or parts of this Toolkit from your personal computer.  You are also allowed to make and distribute photocopies.  For your convenience, the complete set of files that make up the Toolkit is provided in the downloads below.

Many examples in this Toolkit are excerpts from published materials or have been adapted from published materials.  While some of the source materials are in the public domain, others are copyrighted.  If you wish to use any of the Toolkit's text excerpts, photos, or illustrations in your own work, be sure to contact the publisher of the original source material to get permission.