Sunday 8th September is International Literacy Day. It's a great opportunity to raise awareness about improving literacy rates and people's ability to read and understand health information.

In this blog, our Information Materials Researcher, Sue, talks about how we check the readability of our resources for people living with cancer and how you can find out how easy to read a booklet is.

16.4% of adults in England (7.1 million people) have ‘very poor literacy skills’, according to the National Literacy Trust. They can understand short straightforward texts on familiar topics and obtain information from everyday sources. But reading information from unfamiliar sources, or on unfamiliar topics, could cause problems. This is known as being functionally illiterate.

Cancer is a time of stress for people and they can find it difficult to cope with all the information they receive, even if they have good literacy skills. For people with low literacy, it can be even more stressful. Studies have shown that everyone – whether they have high or low literacy levels – remembers health information better when the text is simple. 

We want to make sure that our information is accessible to as many people as possible. We are working towards our information having a reading age of 11. This means we will reach 85% of the population. We are almost there, with most of our booklets achieving a reading age of 12 to 13. 

As well as trying to make sure that everyone can easily read and understand our information, we also assess information from other organisations. We use the Flesch readability score to do this. The higher the score, the greater the number of people who can easily read the information. 

This image shows a table with the Flesch readability scoring scale. The scale is as follows: 0 to 30 is very difficult, like a scientific paper 30 to 50 is difficult, like an academic paper 50 to 60 is fairly difficult, like a quality newspaper 60 to 70 is standard, like digests 70 to 80 is fairly easy, like slick fiction 80 to 90 is easy, like pulp fiction 90 to 100 is very easy, like comics

We then add the readability score to our online Publications Directory. You can use our directory to search for booklets and leaflets produced by us and other organisations for people affected by cancer. And you can be confident that we have checked the quality and reading age of this information. You can search for a booklet by title, author, and subject keyword. 

This image is a screenshot of the publications directory, with the search bar highlighted.

Click on the title to see the full record, where you can find the readability score and a link to download the booklet. For example,

This image is a screenshot of a full record on our publications directory, showing the readability score.

For Macmillan’s booklets, click on the order reference and this will take you to our website, be.Macmillan, where you can order all our booklets for free. 

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To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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