Monday, October 13, 2008

Reading Levels of Hospice Bereavement Materials

The average reading level of most newspapers is 8th grade or below. This implies that most adult readers have a better comprehension of reading materials within that average range. With that in mind, what do you think the average reading level range is for hospice bereavement materials?

The “American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care” reports this in results of a study by Morehead State University in Kentucky. Bereavement literature, including letters to families, as well as educational and resource materials available to families, caregivers, and the public, were rated in terms of reading levels. The Simplified Measure of Gobbledygook (yes, that’s the name), a readability process that is widely accepted by the literacy community, was used. Results of the study concluded that hospice bereavement materials are written at just above a 10th grade level. These results indicate a serious need for adjusting reading levels of hospice materials to levels more appropriate to those of the general public.

You can read more here about this study on reading levels and hospice bereavement materials.

As an educator, I want to emphasize the importance of having written materials at an appropriate reading level for the targeted audience. The Simplified Measure of Gobbledygook, which is also called SMOG, is a readability process that is widely accepted by the literacy community. It estimates the years of education a person needs to understand a piece of writing. You can read more about readability formulas and use a free SMOG text readability consensus calculator here:

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog


  1. The Simplified measure of Gobbledygook! That is hilarious. I have never heard of that before.

    Even when looking through bereavement literature the one thing I am struck by is that even who the literature is directed at is so generalized that I can imagine very few people find it very helpful. As a 33 year old male, I can't see myself in those brochures if I lost my wife. Looking for cultural diversity (age, gender, race, which type of family member you lost, etc.) in these brochures is also an area that should be looked at.

    Thanks for highlighting this.

  2. Here is the link to Wikipedia's entry on SMOG (Simple measure of Gobbeldygook).

    Thanks for linking to this study, I think the medical community really overlooks issues of literacy. It is a shame because it can severely impact health outcomes. But it never seems to get to the top of the list.

  3. Christian, I appreciate your comments. If you have difficulty relating to some of these materials, imagine how lost many of those who make up the masses must be. The problem with these and many other health-related materials is that the writers and those who approve the materials don’t really consider the wide diversity of their reading audience. They think of themselves and their own cultures. If they are going to spend the money to create these materials and are sincere about helping the general public, why not reach as many readers as possible? This isn’t rocket science.

    You are right about the negative impact these reading materials have on health outcomes. In addition to not providing health information many readers want and need, these materials may frustrate and alienate readers from the system that should be supporting them. Insensitivity to diversity is the norm too often when decisions are being made. On a conscious level, writers and decision makers must commit to being sensitive to diversity and practice it consciously until it becomes a natural, moral response.