In Pennsylvania and across the world, cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by a new coronavirus, are growing. We must keep health literacy in mind as we communicate vital public health information and try to manage the spread of the virus. If you are developing educational materials about COVID-19, remember to follow the health literacy best practices below.

Define and involve your audience

Identify and account for the age, gender, cultural identity, and literacy level of your reader.

If possible, ask members of your target audience for feedback. Incorporate their recommendations into your final document.  

Follow “easy-to-read” best practices

Always follow AHRQ’s plain language guidelines

Use active voice in all instructions. For example, “Cough into your elbow,” “Wash your hands for 20 seconds.”  

Avoid jargon when possible. Define all scientific and medical terms immediately after use.

Use short sentences and paragraphs. Keep sentences less than 10-15 words.  Keep paragraphs less than 3-5 sentences.

Make it look good

Use an easy to read font such as Arial, Calibri, or Verdana at a minimum size of 12 point. 14 point or larger is best for older audiences.

Left justify text and keep a ragged margin on the right side of the document.  Use plenty of white space. Don’t overcrowd the page.

Use relevant visuals and illustrations that model desired behaviors. For example, use images of someone coughing into their elbow or properly washing their hands.

Review, assess, and revise

Use assessment tools such as AHRQ’s PEMAT-P and CDC’s Clear Communication Index and readability formulas to ensure the material is suitable for your audience.

Have multiple committee or team members review the material, and compare scores.


The Pennsylvania Health Literacy Coalition can help. If you would like feedback on materials, or help implementing best practices, let us know. Reach out to Susan Cosgrove, Director, Health Literacy, scosgrove@hcifonline.org. We are here to support you in making information accessible, actionable, and health literate.