Beginnings Guides - February 2011 Newsletter

Improving Health Literacy with Printed Materials


First, make them


Beginnings Guides intend to promote parents’ health literacy, that is, their ability to use information and services to enhance personal and child health.  While promoting parents’ or patients’ health literacy takes much more than providing readable information, that is a fundamental first step.  


So what makes printed information effective?  According to published guidelines for preparing information for Medicaid beneficiaries, information must be attractive to the intended learners, hold their attention, make them feel respected and understood, help them understand, and move them to take action.  It is this last element that ultimately matters most; and yet is most often omitted from discussions of health literacy.


Effective materials are those that a person can use to do something to enhance health.  The Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective presents writing and design guidelines to produce materials that are not only easy to understand, but easy put into action in real life situations. This starts a series on using the guidelines to produce health literacy-promoting materials with  examples from Beginnings Guides.  


1. First Impressions Matter Information can have no effect until the intended learner picks it up and reads it.  So the cover must be compelling and must communicate the purpose of the information.  The Beginnings Guides’ covers are designed to make mothers of children aged 0 (pregnancy) to 3 say, “Oh, this is for me and about me.” 

Colorful art by Laurel Burch attracts the eye and compels mothers to pick up the material. For example, the iconic “Beginnings Mothers” on the Pregnancy Guide covers show no race/ethnicity, marital status, or class so learners see what is meaningful and important to them, and the materials are acceptable to a diverse audience.   Still the figures convey pregnancy as beautiful, and suggest another key message: pregnancy is a time of providing love, protection, respect, and care to the child within, by caring for self.    


Test it yourself:  For example, tell 10 parents representative of your service population that you are selecting health information for parents like them and request their assistance. Show them one or more Beginnings booklets and ask “What is this about?”  You can repeat the question with others materials under consideration.


Next:  Hold their attention

Meet Our New Webmother

Beginnings Guides would like to welcome Simone Snyder to the team. Simone has a background in anthropology and is currently working as a doula, childbirth educator and massage therapist. She is also the mother of two amazing boys!

We welcome you to contact Simone at any time with comments, questions, feedback, or website issues.

What's New 

Beginnings Guides has changed our website-Please make sure to visit and discover our new and exciting additions. We have also created many new outlets for building community and encouraging conversation.  Please visit our new blog and join us on facebook and twitter.  We would love to hear from you!

Please make note our website has changed from to  Update your bookmarks accordingly.  Sandra Smith's email address has also changed to

 What are People Saying

 "Dr. Smith recently presented a lecture/discussion about Diabetes Health Literacy to 190 participants at the University of Washington Continuing Nursing Education sponsored, World of Diabetes Conference. She is both an inspiring and polished speaker. Not only did she share information, but modeled how to help patients move from thinking and reacting to problems (with anxiety) to thinking and proactively moving towards realistic, and personally meaningful goals through coaching conversations. She received very enthusiastic reviews both from seasoned veterans in diabetes education and treatment and from participants on the front lines who struggle with how to help their patients manage and cope with diabetes every day."

Dawn Corl, RN, MN, CDE

Diabetes Clinical Nurse Specialist

Clinical Education, Harborview Medical Center

Seattle WA

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