Designing and writing for good communication

• Making manuals from scratch
• Getting the visuals right
• Adapting manuals to your culture
• Manuals for non-literates
• Writing
• Making an A4  Leaflet
• Making a Teaching Handout
• Testing your manual

Making manuals from scratch

The manual folder Testing & Evaluating Manuals takes you through the process of making a manual for a group of workers – both for their training and to support their work in the field.

It is written for Health Workers but you can adapt the ideas to your own field. For example:

Chapter 2 covers “What are the aspects of a good manual?"
Chapter 3 covers “What makes a manual right for a group of workers?”
Chapter 4 covers “Who should be involved in the team?"

Getting the visuals right

Three qualities – Familiarity, Simplicity and Realism – are usually what makes a drawing effective.

If pictures are familiar, people are more likely to understand that the messages are for them. Also, pictures have a lot of power: you must be sure they say what you mean, and not something else. For example, pictures can be a problem if they show one sex or ethnic group in an unfavourable way (see the example below). And what looks nice to people in one village may be seen as not so good in another place.

So when you have the first draft of your pictures, go out into the field and test them. You need to see what the pictures mean to people who will be using the manual (health workers, villagers, or both).

You can ask:

• what does this picture tell you?
• are the people in the picture from your village?
• are they women or men?

After these sorts of questions, you can ask the workers who will use them:

• do any of these pictures need to be changed, to make your work easier?
• do you think health workers here will like this picture? How about clients? Can you think of anybody who might not like it? Why not?
• Would any of the people here think it was making fun of them?


In Country K, the ministry produced a manual on family planning motivation and methods, to be used by health workers in the field. The majority of people in this country belong to the northern ethnic group, and so do almost all doctors and senior nurses (and writers of health manuals).

In the manual, all of the clients in the pictures are from the south. The pictures of doctors and nurses all show northerners. In a discussion of how to motivate non-users, the non-users are described in the way northerners think of those from the south: the text suggests they are lazy, unable to plan ahead, and have other negative qualities. The pictures also emphasize this.

It will not be surprising if health workers in the south do not use this manual!

Adapting visuals to your own culture

See folder A TBA Manual – and how to adapt it to your local culture. This is written for non-literate traditional Birth Attendants, together with instructions so that you could adapt it to your own language and culture.

The manual is an example of how to make small-scale, hand-drawn, educational materials. Follow the same principles to adapt any other similar document to your own circumstances.

Manuals for non-literates

Chapter 7 of folder Testing & Evaluating Manuals covers manuals for non-and semi-literates.

The issues are also covered in the folder TBA Manual (see above), which was itself designed for non-literates – and met with reasonable success when tested.



Visit “Writing for Change” by the Fahamu organisation. This is an online application rather than a single downloadable document.

Here is their Introduction:

Effective writing is built on the following principles:
• Your document should have one governing idea.
• You should address a specific person or group.
• You should make your point, then support it.
• Support your governing idea with a limited number of other ideas, ordered logically.
• Make the document as easy to read as possible.

Making an A4 Leaflet

This is basic, versatile use of the medium of paper. If you can teach yourself basic design and printing, you can make a hand-out with a few felt pens or crayons and run off 100 copies. That was how the folder TBA Manual was made.

Here are some examples of uses for an A4 sheet:

• You could give the paper to farmers. It could inform them about a new kind of seed, what it will do, how to plant and grow it, where to get supplies. You can include simple line drawings to show for example the depth at which the seeds should be planted.

• You could design a leaflet for the husbands of pregnant women with a certain complication – perhaps twins. The wife expecting the twins takes it home after her ante-natal examination. The leaflet tells the husband of the importance of the wife keeping in touch with the midwives; that she may have to have the babies in the nearest hospital; that she would be wise to go and stay with a relative near the hospital during the eighth month.

• Or you could design a page to give to the parents of each new baby with congratulations, addresses of the nearest Baby- and Family Planning clinics, information about vaccinations etc. Midwives and Traditional Birth Attendants could keep copies in all the local languages.

Layout considerations – Remember that you are writing for people with limited reading skills. So:

• Keep sentences short

• Have no more than twelve lines on the page

• Keep words simple

• Have letters twice as big as an ordinary typewriter letter – make them with a computer (use at least 14 point size) or print them neatly by hand

• Keep the line length to no more than about 10 words

• Use local languages and scripts. This can be done by computers,typing or printing by hand.

Duplication – Different methods cost different amounts depending on where you live. Methods include:

• photo-copying

• scanned Xerox stencils

• printing from a computer

• using a cheap local printer

• jelly duplicators

You may be able to keep the costs of paper down by using cheap printing paper, wallpaper lining etc.

Making a Teaching Handout

You can make a hand-out summing up the content of what you are teaching that day or week. If you do this often enough, then the handouts together make a course text-book.

Make sure students have a file or folder to keep the handouts in order. If the hand-out covers the topic that you are teaching in a class or lecture, realise that if you hand it out at the beginning, then students will be busy reading it, not listening to you. So give it out at the end!

You can make a test paper or exam, with spaces for students to fill in. All kinds of student projects will be done more efficiently if they follow a standard paper form, writing in the spaces.

Considerations – The level of English should match the level of the students. Post-graduates should be able to read small print, longer words and sentences. But simple English almost always works better than complicated English. Ways of testing the level of English, such as the Cloze test, are in Chapter Six of folder Testing & Evaluating Manuals.

Testing your manual

Chapters 6 & 7 of folder Testing & Evaluating Manuals contain:

• tests for readability

• a sample questionnaire for testing the accessibility etc. in a manual in the field

• tests for illustrations

• ways of testing manuals for non-literates


Our NGO SKILLS section gives some essential information and recommended links to more

Can't find what you want? Enter a keyword for your topic and click 'FIND'