Health Lit Live with Dr. Cynthia Baur

Illustration of stick figure hosting the talk show "Health Lit Live!" with Dr. Cynthia Baur as a guest.

In honor of Health Literacy Month, We ❤ Health Literacy is kicking off a new series of interviews with the movers and shakers on the health literacy scene — “Health Lit Live.”

Host Doug Doodleman drinks from a mug.

In our very first installment, our imaginary host Doug Doodleman raps with Dr. Cynthia Baur about the CDC Clear Communication Index, which she helped develop. Dr. Baur is a health literacy and plain language specialist and Senior Advisor in the Office of the Associate Director for Communication at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Doug: Thanks so much for joining us today here on the World Wide Web, Dr. Baur.

Dr. Baur: Thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here, so to speak.

Doug: So, CDC, eh? That makes me think: Hazmat suits! Outbreaks! Disease detectives! Do CDC communicators go out into the field to do cool stuff, too?

Dr. Baur: Depending on the situation,

Dr. Cynthia Baur explains the role of CDC communicators.

communicators may go into the field as part of investigations and work alongside the epidemiologists, or disease detectives. For example, many communicators have deployed and are still going to West Africa for the Ebola response.

Host Doug Doodleman is impressed.

Doug: Wow! Communicators to the rescue! Okay, so tell me about this new-fangled CDC Index — it’s a tool to help people assess the clarity of their materials, right?

Dr. Baur: Yes, that’s right.

Doug: I gotta say, usually we’re not so keen on readability tools and formulas here at We ❤ Health Literacy headquartersthey don’t tend to work so hot.

Dr. Baur: You’re right. A lot of readability formulas are pretty
weak — just counting syllables or sentence length, which won’t tell you much. Communication checklists are often long and hard to use, with scores that can vary widely depending on who’s doing the scoring.

Doug: So what makes the Index better?

Dr. Baur: We took a different approach. Because

Dr. Cynthia Baur explains CDC's different approach.

we’re a science-based agency, we created a science-based tool — one that takes some of the subjectivity out of scoring. We developed 4 questions and 20 items to score. We don’t ask people who are scoring to assess the quality of a document — instead, they’re looking for specific items, like “Is the main message at the top, beginning, or front of the material?” and “Does the material use numbered or bulleted lists?”

It’s more objective than other tools and it includes some aspects of communication that other tools don’t consider, such as how numbers are presented.

Host Doug Doodleman is extremely busy.

Doug: Okay, but let me be blunt: I’m an extremely busy doodle, what with being an in-demand illustrated individual and whatnot — and my dear readers are busy too. Even if the science supports it, who’s got time for another tool?

Dr. Baur: We get it. So we designed the Index with ease of use in mind. Once you become comfortable with it, you should be able to score a material in about 15 minutes.

Doug: Gosh! And what would I need to access this Index? A mainframe computer running UNIX? CDC clearance with a retinal scan and biometric —

Dr. Baur: Nope. Anyone can go to the website and begin using the scoring widget right away. That’s it.

Doug: Well that sounds easy! So Dr. Baur, my last question is this: Could you set me up with one of those cool windbreakers with the CDC logo on the back? So I could yell “Stay calm! There’s been a dangerous outbreak of jargon! Evacuate the — ”

Doug Doodleman points to his head, excited that he might get a CDC hat.

Dr. Baur: No.

Cynthia Baur says no.

Doug: A hat?

Dr. Baur: No.

Doug: Okay! Thanks, Dr. Baur! And dear readers, be sure to stay tuned to your internet-based reading machine for the next installment of Health Lit Live!

The bottom line: Check out the CDC Clear Communication Index and make sure your health content measures up.


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