Communication Tools: Fact Sheets

A fact sheet is a one-page document that provides basic information on a specific topic in an easy- and quick-to-read format. If the subject is just too complex to reduce to a single page, consider creating more than one fact sheet. Just make certain each fact sheet focuses on a single aspect of the overall topic.

Fact sheet are particularly useful to reporters and state and national legislators. What do all this groups have in common? Very little time to gather enough information to write a quality article or make a quality decision.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Content

  • Write in lay terms, using words that the average person (someone without professional training in the subject area) can understand.
  • Find ways to simplify complex ideas. Search for comparisons and everyday analogies that will express complicated processes. Transform jargon into English.
  • Write in the present tense and as active as possible
  • Keep the text brief - no one wants to read tons of information in small font
  • Keep the most important information in the first paragraph - what the issue is, what action is needed, and label the main message(s)
  • Use terms consistently
  • Double check all numbers and percents used
  • If details are given in a table or chart, there is not need to give those details in the narrative (use general terms instead)
  • If using lists, put them into bullets
  • The fact sheet must be self-contained - do not refer to previous documents or assume that they remember the information

Layout

  • One page is best
  • Use at 10-14 point font
  • The page should begin with the words “Fact Sheet,” followed by a very brief headline that explains the subject of the page.
  • Use bullets when you can
  • Leave a lot of white space
  • Use bolding, text boxes, and graphics to emphasize important points
  • Simple graphs and charts can give the reader the information with just a glance. Pie charts are the easiest to understand
  • Give references for more information - in electronic communications you can offer links

Typical writing errors

  • Identify all acronyms at first use, then use only the acronym for the rest of the document
    • Example: The Center for Rural Health (CRH) was established in 1980. The CRH is based at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
  • In narrative, use the word “percent” rather than the symbol “%”
    Example: Of the 100 people who were sent the survey, 80 percent responded.
  • Avoid use of decimals when using percents.
    • Example: The population of North Dakota has increased just over one percent in the past year.
  • Using numbers: In general, any number below 10 is written out as words, above 10 as numerals.
    • Example: During the program, information was sent to three communities resulting in responses from 234 people.
      Exceptions: When a number comes at the beginning of a sentence and dates:
    • Example: Two hundred thirty-four people responded to the mailing before April
  • Titles: If a title comes before the name, it is capitalized. If it comes after the name, it is not. Courtesy (non-degree) titles such as Mr. Mrs., Miss, or Ms. are generally not used and should be used only when specifically requested (and then consistently).
    • Example: Center for Rural Health Director Dr. Mary Wakefield attended the meeting. Brad Gibbens, associate director of the Center for Rural Health, joined her.
  • Dates: There is no comma between month and year. There is a comma between date and year.
    • Example: We are planning on meeting in April 2005, possibly April 15, 2005.
  • People first: When using terms to describe people, it is a good idea to use “people first language.”
    • Example: Many of the children who are uninsured in North Dakota come from families with low income.

It is also a good idea to set the grammar check on your Microsoft Word program to check style also. This is done under Tools, Spelling and Grammar, Options, Grammar, Writing Style: Grammar & Style.

Examples

Phone: (701) 777-3848
Email: ruralhealth@med.und.edu

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