How to Use the Index

The Index is designed to help you communicate clearly with your intended audience(s). You can use the Index in several ways:

  1. To inform the design and development of a new communication product
  2. To assess the clarity of a communication product prior to public release
  3. To encourage discussion and collaboration between writers and reviewers before or during the clearance process as you work to attain scientific accuracy and clarity of content
  4. To quickly assess the clarity and ease of use of an already released communication product

Directions for Using the Clear Communication Index

The following directions offer different ways to use the Index so that people can do self-study, group training sessions, or refresh their skills previously acquired.

Drafting new materials is a method OADC uses to train CDC staff on the Index. To simplify the directions, the “score sheet” is used consistently, and the same directions apply to the widget.

    1. Identify the people who will influence the final material. These influencers may be subject matter experts, supervisors, or review/clearance officials with final say over the material’s public release. Include as many influencers as possible in helping you design and draft the material. You can gather as a team and draft the material together.
    2. Begin with a blank document, blank score sheet, and the information you want to include in a new material.
    3. In the blank document, write the answers to the opening four questions about primary audience, health literacy skills, communication objective, and main message. We strongly recommend working with the influencers for at least this section because you will likely develop a deeper understanding of the parameters for the material and even differences of opinion among influencers. Be thoughtful, and don’t worry if this section takes more time than you expected. Your team may need to rethink and revise the answers before you continue. Once the team clarifies and resolves differences, you may avoid misunderstandings and disagreements in the future and save time overall.
      • During discussions, the most important points of disagreement may be about “what to say” and “how to say it.” To resolve questions about how to say things, always resort to your understanding of the primary audience. This is when your answers to the opening four questions will come in especially handy and help you assess if and what your audience will understand from exposure to the material.
    4. Use the answers to the first four questions to work through the Part A items. Draft the material’s text in the same document with the answers to the four questions. On the Index score sheet, mark “yes” each time you complete an item.
      • Main message, call to action, and language items
        • Copy and paste the main message as the opening sentence(s) (#1).
        • Leave the main message at the top (#2).
        • Choose visual cues. You can add them now or note what they will be when you get to the design phase (#3).
        • Choose graphics. You can add them now or note what they will be when you get to the design phase (#4).
        • Write the action(s) you want the primary audience to take after being exposed to the information (#5).
        • Confirm the main message and call to action are written in active voice (#6).
        • Confirm everything written so far uses language the audience is familiar with. Keep checking your writing as you add information (#7).
      • Information design items
        • Finish the opening summary. You already have the main message and call to action. Add any other topics the material will cover, but keep the summary short. Make sure everything you add contributes to the communication objective (#10).
      • Draft the material to elaborate on the summary. Use lists, chunks, and headings as you write (#8-9). Stick to the topics in the summary; don’t add new topics. If you find you’ve left out critical information, revisit the main message, call to action, and summary, and revise as needed. Confirm the summary matches the topics in the rest of the material.
      • “State of the science” item
        • List what you know and don’t know about the topic (#11). Choose only the most important information that matters to your primary audience. You can work this information into other text or create separate sections with headings. If you struggle to identify what you don’t know, think about what your organization is learning, waiting for others to discover, or what you would answer “I don’t know” to if a journalist asked you a question about it.
      • You finished Part A. Make sure you used the comment section to note at least the call to action, language choices reviewers might question, and any state of the science issues. Your material should score 100% because you followed the criteria.
    5. Decide if the material will include information about health behaviors (Part B), numbers (Part C), or health risks (Part D). If yes, choose which parts apply and repeat the process described above for the items in each part. If you have questions about the items, consult the directions in the score sheet and the Index User’s Guide on the website. As you work through the items, you may need to revise text you already drafted. Your material should still score 100% when you finish because you followed the criteria.
    6. Ask independent reviewers to check your work. See the next section for directions.

Reviewing Draft Materials

To simplify the directions, the “score sheet” is used consistently, and the same directions apply to the widget.

  1. When you draft a new material, ask colleagues, supervisors, or end users of the material to use the Index criteria to review the draft. You send them a blank score sheet and the draft material and ask them to independently review it. Encourage reviewers to use the comments sections so you can understand the items’ scores.
    •  You can complete the answers to the first four questions and ask your reviewers to confirm your answers or offer their own answers.
    • You can send a blank score sheet and ask your reviewers to offer their own answers to the first four questions.
    • Be sure to explain that they always score the items in Part A. They need to decide if Parts B, C, or D apply to the material and score accordingly.
    • Use the reviewers’ score sheet feedback to revise the draft.
  2. If you review others’ draft materials, you can use a blank score sheet to structure your feedback to the developers. Use the comments sections so they understand the items’ scores.
  3. If reviewers disagree with the material developers’ score, talk about the differences and revise and re-score as needed.

Reviewing Finished Materials

To simplify the directions, the “score sheet” is used consistently.

  1. If you have a finished material that you want to evaluate, you can use a blank score sheet and score the material on your own or in a team. Be sure to have at least two people independently score the material.
    • You can complete the answers to the first four questions and ask your reviewers to confirm your answers or offer their own answers.
    • You can send a blank score sheet and ask your reviewers to offer their own answers to the first four questions.
    • Be sure to explain that reviewers should always score the items in Part A. They need to decide if Parts B, C, or D apply to the material and score accordingly.
    • Compare and reconcile both the scores and comments. Use the reviewers’ score sheet feedback to revise and finish the material.
  2. If the material belongs to your team, use the score sheet feedback to revise the material. Once the revision is complete, send a blank score sheet and the revised material to at least two new independent reviewers.
    • You can complete the answers to the first four questions and ask your reviewers to confirm your answers or offer their own answers.
    • You can send a blank score sheet and ask your reviewers to complete the first four questions.
    • Use the reviewers’ score sheet feedback to revise and finish the material.
  3. If you are a review/clearance official, you can use a blank score sheet to structure your feedback to the person or team who submitted the material. Use the comments section so they understand the items’ scores.

Finishing Materials

Use all the feedback gained through multiple rounds of review to revise and finish the material. OADC recommends a final Index score of 90 or higher on a 100 point scale. Remember, you need at least two independent reviewers to agree on a final Index score.

You can send complete or blank score sheets to help clearance officials. A completed score sheet will show the criteria and rationale you used to draft the material; a blank score sheet means you want reviewers to independently evaluate the material.

If you have questions about this document contact clearcommunication@cdc.gov.

TESTING MATERIALS WITH THE PRIMARY AUDIENCE

Even when you review the material by using the Index criteria, OADC recommends testing materials with the primary audience. You can test draft, revised, or finished materials to confirm the audience understands and can use the material as intended.

OADC recommends

  • at least two people independently review a material before deciding on a final score,
  • material developers not review and score their own materials,
  • testing Index-designed materials with the primary audience to confirm the materials are easy to understand and use.

Note: You can use either the downloadable fillable score sheets or the widget on https://www.cdc.gov/ccindex.

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Page last reviewed: September 7, 2017