The readability of pediatric patient education materials on the World Wide Web

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001 Jul;155(7):807-12. doi: 10.1001/archpedi.155.7.807.


Background: Literacy is a national and international problem. Studies have shown the readability of adult and pediatric patient education materials to be too high for average adults. Materials should be written at the 8th-grade level or lower.

Objective: To determine the general readability of pediatric patient education materials designed for adults on the World Wide Web (WWW).

Materials and methods: ( is a digital library serving the medical information needs of pediatric health care providers, patients, and families. Documents from 100 different authoritative Web sites designed for laypersons were evaluated using a built-in computer software readability formula (Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid reading levels) and hand calculation methods (Fry Formula and SMOG methods). Analysis of variance and paired t tests determined significance.

Results: Eighty-nine documents constituted the final sample; they covered a wide spectrum of pediatric topics. The overall Flesch Reading Ease score was 57.0. The overall mean Fry Formula was 12.0 (12th grade, 0 months of schooling) and SMOG was 12.2. The overall Flesch-Kincaid grade level was significantly lower (P<.0001), at a mean of 7.1, when compared with the other 2 methods. All author and institution groups had an average reading level above 10.6 by the Fry Formula and SMOG methods.

Conclusions: Pediatric patient education materials on the WWW are not written at an appropriate reading level for the average adult. We propose that a practical reading level and how it was determined be included on all patient education materials on the WWW for general guidance in material selection. We discuss suggestions for improved readability of patient education materials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Language*
  • Parents*
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Pediatrics*
  • Reading*
  • Teaching Materials / standards*