Health Literacy Glossary

Our glossary contains common words and phrases related to health literacy, user-centered design, and health education. The definitions are tailored to the work we do at CommunicateHealth.

Actionable Easy to act on. Actionable information tells people what to do and how to do it. Content that is actionable focuses on behavior.

Card sorting Card sorting involves members of your target audience (or “representative Web users”) sorting a group of cards (index cards work great). Each card contains a description of content found on your Web site. Participants are asked to put cards into logical groups, rank cards in order of importance, and/or suggest labels for groups (or categories) of cards. Card sorting is a user-driven method to determine how to organize the content on your Web site (see Information architecture).

Content development Writing and preparing content for a publication, typically a Web site. Web content can include text, graphics, audio/video and links.

Content management The systematic process for storing, indexing, updating, and deploying content on a Web site. Content management involves storing information and resources in a content repository and managing how that information gets catalogued and updated.

Formative research Research that is done before or during the design and implementation phase of a program or Web site. Formative research can help you understand users’ needs and inform or improve program design. Common formative research methods include literature reviews, needs assessments, in-depth interviews, audience profiles, focus groups, and prototype testing.

Health education Health education is the science and practice of improving the health of all people through education and intervention. Health educators encourage healthy lifestyles and wellness by increasing knowledge, developing skills, and advocating for policies that promote individual and community health.

Health literacy Health literacy is a person’s ability to understand and use health information. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines health literacy as the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand the basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.

Information architecture Information architecture is a fancy term for how information (content) is organized and labeled on a Web site. The goal is to organize information so that it’s easy to find. Good information architecture reflects the way people think; it’s intuitive.

Iterative design Iterative design can be summed up in 3 words: test, revise, repeat. Iterative design is the process of continually testing and improving your product or Web site.

Navigation The process of moving from one Web page to another Web page, typically on the same Web site. Navigation relies on hyperlinks in the form of menus, numbered pages, toolbars, icons, or breadcrumb links.

Patient messaging (consumer messaging) Delivering health messages directly to members of your target audience. For example, messaging could include sending actionable alerts to patients highlighting opportunities to improve health or get preventive care. Messages can be delivered via email, text message, Explanation of Benefit (EOB) forms, or other communication channels that reach consumers directly. Ideally, consumer messages are tailored to the recipient’s age, gender, or health status; the more tailored your message is, the more effective it will be.

Plain language Plain language is a strategy for making information easier to find, understand, and use. Plain language techniques include using the active voice, short sentences and bulleted lists, and everyday language.

Prototype A prototype is a rough draft of your Web site or product. Prototypes are used during the product development stage to get initial feedback from users. Prototypes can be simple sketches on paper or clickable models that let users view several screens of Web content.

Public health Public health is the science and practice of promoting health and preventing disease on a community or population level.

Readability The ease with which a written text can be read. There are many commonly used formulas to assess readability (for example, SMOG, FRY and Flesch-Kincaid). Typical readability formulas calculate the number of syllables in a word and the number of words in a sentence. Readability tests do not measure or predict how well your intended audience will understand the material.

Self-efficacy Self-efficacy is a person’s assessment or belief about her ability to succeed in accomplishing a task. Self-efficacy can be an important predictor of behavior. Breaking behaviors into smaller, more realistic steps can help increase self-efficacy.

Usability Usability measures the quality of a user’s experience when interacting with a Web site or product. Usability is a term to describe how easy a Web site is to use. Usability is determined by 2 broad questions: how well can users accomplish their goals on your Web site, and how satisfied are they with the process? Usability is typically measured with a technique called usability testing.

Usability testing Usability testing is a technique used to gather feedback about a user’s experience with your Web site or product. Usability testing is typically conducted one-on-one with a participant and a moderator. During usability testing, the moderator observes the participant while she performs various tasks on a Web site, noting where the participant experiences problems or gets lost.

User-centered design User-centered design (or UCD) is a method for developing Web sites and products that involves users as co-creators in every step of the design process. User-centered design includes understanding user requirements and incorporating user feedback to refine your Web site.

White space The space between lines of text or paragraphs, around images, in the margins of the page, and in headers and footers. White space allows for visual separation of design and text elements on a page – and makes things easier to read. Use it liberally!

NOTE: If you think we should include additional terms or definitions, let us know. Contact us at


Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>