Tailoring print materials to match literacy levels : a challenge for document designers and practitioners in adult literacy

12 Jan 2011

One in three South Africans aged 20 and older has not completed primary school, or has no schooling at all. Communication specialists who are in the business of writing public information documents need to take cognisance of this fact if they are committed to producing documents that meet the needs and skill levels of their different audiences. They also need a basic understanding of the reading strategies of both highly skilled and less-skilled readers, an awareness of the differences in processing and acceptance of visuals by skilled and unskilled viewers, and the ability to translate the relevant user variables into textual variables. This article is aimed at giving an overview of the most important theories that describe and/or explain how low-literate audiences process and react to printed information, and to match these theories with research-based principles and best practices for designing readercentred public information documents. The outcome of the article is a comprehensive set of design heuristics for low-literacy public information materials, based on relevant information-processing features that have been derived from the literature on reading comprehension and visual literacy.