Health Literacy Online: A Guide to Writing and Designing Easy-to-Use Health Sites

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP)



A researched-based “how-to” guide for creating health websites and web content for the millions of Americans with limited literacy skills and limited experience using the Web. The strategies in this guide complement accepted principles of good web design and thus have the potential to improve the online experience for all users, regardless of literacy skills. This guide is written for Web designers, Web content specialists, and other public health communication professionals. It offers an overview of how to (1) deliver online health information that is actionable and engaging, (2) create a health Website that’s easy to use, particularly for people with limited literacy skills and limited experience using the Web, (3) evaluate and improve your health Website with user-centered design.


Five Guidelines for Developing Customer-Friendly Websites

The Maximus Center for Health Literacy

Hard-to-find or hard-to-use web pages are missed opportunities for sharing information. This manual includes guidelines on, how to make your site easy to find, how to create a clean and uncluttered design, how to write for your clients, how to provide clear pathways for user tasks, and how to conduct usability testing throughout development. Use this resource to improve your chances of creating a site that is visible, useful, and pleasing to read. Each guideline is accompanied with examples and pictures.


Plain Language Thesaurus

University of Washington

This Plain Language Thesaurus has been put together by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Marketing. The thesaurus offers plain language alternatives to medical terms, phrases, and references that we often use

“How To” Tips for Plain Language works to improve communication from the Federal Government to the Public. This site provides shortcuts to a wealth of materials. Resources include: quick reference tips on writing clear documents, word suggestions to keep your writing jargon-free, dictionaries, thesauruses, style guides, and grammar sites, as well as tips for starting your own plain-language programs.

Health Literacy Tool Shed

U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), in collaboration with Boston University School of Medicine

The Health Literacy Tool Shed is an online database of health literacy measures. The site contains information about measures, including their psychometric properties, based on a review of the peer-reviewed literature.

Teach Back

Teach Back Toolkit

The Always Use Teach-Back! training toolkit helps all health care providers learn to use teach-back, every time it is indicated, to support patients and families throughout the care continuum, especially during transitions between health care settings. The toolkit combines health literacy principles of plain language and using teach-back to ensure understanding. Behavior change principles, coaching new habits, and adapting systems to promote consistent use of key practices are also included. This resource contains interactive learning modules, readings, and videos.

CDC Clear Communication Index and Scoring Widget

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

 Clear Communication Index Scoring Widget

The CDC Clear Communication Index is a research-based tool to help you develop and assess public communication materials. The 20 items in the index build on and expand plain language techniques described in the Federal Plain Language Guidelines. The Index goes beyond checklists and readability formulas by focusing on the most important research-based items that enhance clarity and aid understanding. The index also provides a numerical score so you can objectively assess and improve materials based on the best available science.