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Tips for Developing Brochures

(and Other Information) for Seniors on Alcohol or Other Health Related Matters


There are many brochures for seniors and others on alcohol or aging related matters. Some are very, very good. Others are less than optimal.

Starting Points

 If you are developing an alcohol-health pamphlet for seniors, here are some starting points to consider:


  • Simple ideas: Recognize the fact that many older adults may not have a high level of "health literacy".

  • Keep the brochure interesting. Offer some little known facts.

  • Present a positive message of what will happen if the person decreases drinking or stops. Be factual.

  • Recognize/ acknowledge that reducing or stopping drinking is not easy, but can be done.

  • Be clear but non-threatening about what may happen if not a person continues to drink at unsafe levels. However, don't exaggerate; don't overstate "facts".

  • Respect the fact that you are talking to adults.  A "Just say 'No'" type of message is not going to work.

  • Tailor the message to make it relevant to issues affecting older adults in your community. Identify local resources.

  • Use bullets to convey the ideas instead of long sentences.


For anyone developing materials in this area, here are two general sources of information on communicating better with seniors:

1. Communicating in Print With/ About Seniors, by Health Canada, is available on the Internet at: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/seniors-aines/pubs/communicating/pdf/comsen_e.pdf

 It provides helpful suggestions on design and layout, content, and use of language.

See also:


Information on design:




Here are a few of the suggestions offered, with some of my own added in green :


Use terms such as "seniors" and "older adults". Avoid the word "elderly" unless you mean "frail elderly" (usually this means people age 85+ in poor health).

Avoid language that suggests older persons with disabilities are victims or afflicted. For example, avoid words like "someone suffering from MS" or a "wheelchair-bound person", "handicapped". Instead use words that emphasize the person first, such as "disabled older person" or "older person with a disability", or "older person with MS".

Appropriate language use is particularly important when developing education materials for older adults around alcohol issues:

  • Use positive language that normalizes alcohol use, and does not inadvertently sound as if you are judging the person.

  • Do not use the word "alcoholic". The term is too vague, inaccurate and very stigmatizing to many seniors.

  • Aim for eighth-grade reading level (as with any publication for the general public).


Design and Layout:

  • Use plain, clear typeface.

  • Avoid script and ornamental print (Time Roman and italics are hard to read).

  • Don't combine many different typefaces on the same page.

  • Use dark print on light backgrounds.

  • Best is black type on white paper.

  • Avoid jargon and acronyms.

  • Avoid long paragraphs. Avoid long sentences (anything over 10 words).

  • Aim for eighth-grade reading level (as with any publication for the general public).

  • Provide good spacing between the lines. Often it makes reading easier even if the print size is small, because the words don't run into each other.

  • Avoid jargon and technical terms or phrases (in the context of seniors and alcohol, that includes things like "cognitive- behavioural therapy"; "psycho-social-biological"; "withdrawal"; "detoxification"; "rehabilitation")

  • Avoid abbreviations and acronyms (that includes things like local acronyms that health providers might commonly use, such as CAMH, CCAC or CLSC). Even if there are local abbreviations that you think everyone know, write it out the first time.

  • Use graphics (clipart or photos) to illustrate key ideas and to break up heavy text. Don't combine photos and clipart.


For Content:

  • Depict senior men and women involved in all aspects of life, including non-traditional roles.

  • Include positive representation of: seniors who are women, from visible minority groups, frail, as well as those with disabilities.

  • Be realistic. Include positive images of seniors in wheelchairs, using walkers, canes, etc.

  • Show diversity.  Avoid stereotyping that depicts seniors as being all alike.


When working on the content for alcohol education materials:

  • Use positive wording that offers people hope and reason to change their behaviour (whether the target audience is seniors, families, or service providers).


2) Making Health Communication Programs Work: A Planner's Guide (an American publication) is a second source that can be helpful when developing brochures. It is more generic, as opposed to being geared specifically to seniors or issues affecting seniors.

The document provides "Tips for Developing TV Public Service Announcements" and how to "Make Print Materials Easier to Read".

The publication notes: "Writing about health often requires the use of some technical language. However, the way your message is presented-- the writing style, vocabulary, typography, layout, graphics, and color can favourably affect whether it is read and understood."  The Guide suggests:

- introduce the topic, stating the purpose to orient the reader

- summarize your message at the end to review major points

- present the message in short sentences within short paragraphs

- break up the message with visuals placed to emphasize key points and text

- use "bullets" and titles or subtitles to reinforce important points

- write in the active, not passive, voice

- underline, boldface, or "box" for reinforcement

- clarify with the use of examples

- test for readability

- test with audience

- explain, if necessary, in a glossary (with key words defined within the sentence)


Clear writing is necessary. So is text that is easy to read and graphics that help the reader understand and remember your message.


Plus, when using any graphics, make sure they are:

- immediately identifiable

- relevant to the subject matter and reader

- simple, uncluttered

- used to reinforce, not compete with the text


They also suggest try to avoid:

- small type (less than 10-point) (For people aged 55 and over, I would strongly suggest at least 12 point font)

- lines of type that are too long or too short

- large blocks of print

- "justified" right margins

- photographs that won't reproduce well

- less than professional-quality drawings (they may make your text appear less credible)

- technical diagrams


They go also stress the need to pretest your materials.

"Pre-testing is not a substitute for experienced judgment; rather, it can provide additional information from which you can make sound decisions ... If 5 of the 10 respondents in a focus group interview do not understand portions of a pamphlet, it does not necessarily mean that 50 percent of the total target population will be confused. The lack of understanding among those pretest respondents suggests, however, that the pamphlet may need to be revised to improve comprehension. In sum, pre-testing is indicative, not predictive. "

"Another problem that arises in health communication pre-testing concerns interpretation of respondent reactions to a sensitive or emotional subject such as breast cancer or AIDS. Respondents may become unusually rational when reacting to such pretest materials and cover up their true concerns, feelings, and behavior. As a result, the pre-tester must examine and interpret responses carefully."  [emphasis added]







Page last updated Monday January 03, 2005

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