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Little Fixes with a Big Impact: 10 Common and Easy-to-Fix Communication Challenges

Updated: Apr 10

At the Clear Language Lab, we help organizations create communications that their audience can understand and use.


Let's talk about some of the most common and easy-to-fix communication issues we see in our work.



Ideas

1. Have a Clear Purpose

Make sure you have a clear goal for content. Otherwise, you might end up with confusing materials that have a “Frankenstein” vibe.


For example, your topic might be "Diabetes in Older Adults." That's a broad topic and it isn't clear what you want people to learn or do from this information.


The same topic with a clear purpose could be something like:

  • Thriving with Diabetes: Tips for Older Adults

  • Creating Diabetes Friendly Menus: A Guide for Hospitals and Nursing Homes

  • How Providers Can Better Support Older Adults Living with Diabetes


You'll notice that having a clear purpose also makes it easier to tell who the intended audience is for this information.


2. Make Action Steps Clear

Use simple sentences and active voice to make your action steps clear.


Vague action steps might look something like "Email Mary to RSVP." I'm not sure what to include in my email, and Mary is likely to get flooded with emails that don't have the information she needs.


Instead, you could say something like this example:


Tell us you're coming!   Email Mary at mary@abcservices.org.  In your email, include: The event name, Your name, and How many people will be coming with you

Remember to test your processes to make sure people can actually complete the steps the way you intended.



3. Use Words Your Audience Knows

Unfamiliar words can be a barrier to your audience getting the information they need.


Try to use simple everyday language and define technical terms when your audience needs to know them.

Jargon and technical language

Simple, everyday language

Utilize the patient portal to check your test results.

Use the patient portal to check your test results.

We use evidence-based interventions.

We use research to guide our work.

Our mission is to reduce housing inequities.

Our mission is to reduce unequal access to housing.



Organization

4. Use Headings

Two examples of documents with dummy text. One has headings and one doesn't.

Headings make text more accessible!


Without headings, it can be easy to skip important info or even give up if the text is overwhelming!


Headings can include a brief summary of the content or can feature a question that is answered by the text.



5. Use Lists to Break Up Information

Lists are a great way to make dense information feel less overwhelming.

Bullet points are great for grouping related ideas.

Numbered lists work well for processes.

Remember to always introduce lists and use the same grammatical format for each item on the list.



6. Check for Who, What, Where, When, and Why

An example flyer with dummy text and icons for audience, date, time, and location showing where that information might be.

Before you share your materials, double check that you’re not missing any important details.


It’s usually enough to quickly check that you’re answering:

  • Who is this for?

  • What is the purpose?

  • Where does this take place?

  • When does this take place?

  • Why should my audience care about this?



Design

7. Check the Color Contrast

Two example flyers, one with unreadable color contrast and one with color contrast that passes an accessibility test.

We need to use colors that work together with enough contrast. Imagine reading the image on the left on your phone. Not easy!


If your brand colors don’t provide enough contrast with each other, think about using them as accent colors or one at a time. 



8. Test Materials on Multiple Devices

Illustrations of the same flyer. One is on a computer screen and the font is clear. One is on a phone screen and the font is too small to read.

A design may look great on your computer but be too small to read on a phone.


Designing for the specific format you’re sharing is helpful, too. For example, letter size documents can be difficult to read on social media.



9. Label QR Codes and Links

People are less likely to trust QR codes and links that aren’t clearly labeled.


When using an embedded link, don’t just say “click here,” but describe where the link takes you.



10. Choose Easy to Read Fonts

Examples of difficult to read fonts and one easy to read font.

Some fonts look cool but are difficult to read at every size. 


Stick with fonts that use traditional letter shapes and pay attention to confusing look-a-likes. For example, people sometimes mistake AI (artificial intelligence) for steak sauce or the nickname Al.

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