Techniques to identify information need

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1. Check your understanding

Reflecting back is a good way to check that you have understood correctly what you have discussed. By summarising the key points, the person has the opportunity to agree or can explain again what they really need.

2. Using Teachback to check your understanding

Teachback 3  is a useful tool that you can use to check your own understanding of what a person has said.  We introduced the Teachback technique in the Health Literacy module 3, “tools and techniques” section.  In this video, we meet Karen who has recently been diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes and Jeannette, a librarian who uses Teachback to clarify the information that Karen needs.

With thanks to Midlothian Library Services for creating this video.

We will use Teachback again later in this topic to check the person's understanding of the information you give them.

3. Think about literacy issues - the 3L's

A person’s health literacy may be affected by their general literacy and digital literacy.

You can’t tell by looking at a person what their level of understanding is.

3Ls are health literarcy, functional literacy and digital literacy

4. Questions to ask

Download this checklist to keep 

Questions to ask to assess literacy levels


Are they confident using medical terminology?



Do they seem to have a good understanding of the condition already?



Have they already used sites such as NHS Inform and third sector websites and want more advanced research?


Remember, even highly educated people can struggle with unfamiliar health terms.  They may seem daunting and confusing at a time when the person is under stress.


Questions to ask to determine preferences: by asking what format they would like the information in, you can assess if they have difficulty with reading or lack digital skills.


Would they prefer video, leaflet, pictures or online information?


English as another language

If you are speaking to someone who’s first language is not English, what language would they prefer?


5. Readability issues

Think about the written information you refer people to:​ ​

  • Remember average reading age 9 – 11 years​
  • Is the language appropriate for the person and their need?​
  • Does it contain health jargon or acronyms?​ Are the sentences short?​
  • Is it written using the active voice?
6. Active versus passive language

A sentence written in the active voice puts the focus on the person and states precisely what they need to do. Information in the active voice is easier to understand and engages people better than the passive voice. ​ ​

active vrs passive - an example is: (the active voice) You take this antibiotic tablet with food versus (the passive voice) This antibiotic tablet is taken with food

7. Check your knowledge

8. Readability checkers

A Readability Checker is a simple tool you can use to gauge the average reading age of a piece of text.

These are free to use:​ ​

SMOG 1  – simple measure of gobbledygook ​

Tests 2   - document readability checker ​

Microsoft Word also has a readability checker in spelling and grammar options.

9. Workbook exercise (2)

Workbook Workbook Exercise (2)

Review a piece of information you regularly give people. For example, it could be directions of how to visit you or details about your service.

Suggest how this can be improved to make it easier for people to understand and use.

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