When I was a dietetics intern, one of my missions was to grab a copy of every nutrition education handout I could find during my internship. I was determined to one day learn how to create my own handouts to educate clients about hot topics in nutrition, such as the newest cooking trends or the truths about a popular fad diet. By the end of my internship, I had two manilla folders stuffed with handouts. And although many of them were creatively designed, there were a few that were simply memorable. These handouts illustrated the following three easy tips I’ve embraced to develop dynamic patient handouts on numerous nutrition topics for inpatient and outpatient clinics.
1. Keep It Short and Sweet
This tip can be challenging to follow since dietitians often want to provide as much information as possible to clients. Yet, too much information on a handout can be overwhelming. To solve this problem, there are two simple rules to keep bullet points and paragraphs succinct.
Bullet points summarize a main idea, so don’t turn them into paragraphs. Try the Seven-by-Seven Rule: Use no more than seven words per line for a bullet point and no more than seven lines per bullet point. You’re more likely to engage clients without losing their interest too quickly.
Unlike bullet points, paragraphs expand on information in a handout. To avoid lengthy paragraphs, Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab suggests focusing on one main idea per paragraph. Have a fellow RD read and summarize the message in your paragraph(s) if you’re having trouble. If there’s more than one main idea per paragraph, separate them for clarity.
2. Have Fun With Color
Playing with color can be one of the most fun—but also the most challenging—aspects of creating a memorable handout. A color wheel, which presents the relationships between colors, can be an invaluable resource when choosing the perfect colors for handouts. Common types of color combinations, such as the examples listed below, can guide you toward a palette that will pop:
- Complementary: These colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel and will give your handout a bolder and bright look.
- Monochromatic: Different shades and tones can be chosen from one color to create a refined and cohesive color theme.
- Analogous: Choosing two or three colors next to each other on the color wheel can give your handout a timeless appeal.
- Triadic and Tetradic: This color theme focuses on three or four evenly spaced colors on the color wheel. While these color themes give your handout a bold look, prevent them from becoming visually overwhelming by choosing one main color and using the remaining colors as accents.
3. Balance White Space
There are limitless ideas for arranging type, graphics, and other images in your handout. However, white space, which is any space on the handout not used by other components, must be balanced—not too much and not too little.
There’s no exact percentage on how much white space should be in a handout, but gathering opinions can help. Let a friend or colleague look at your creation and help you evaluate the amount of allocated white space; they can help you decide whether a page looks too busy, too sparse, or just right. Also consider the following tips to guide your allocation of type and images vs white space:
- If your handout is double-sided, there should be enough white space for your client to write short notes and tips in the margins.
- If the handout contains single-spaced sentences, use arrows or graphics to encourage clients to write notes on the back of the handout.
- If you feel like you have too much white space, fill the space with more bullet points, a short paragraph, graphics, or photos that match your color theme.
- If you don’t have enough white space, minimize or delete some photos or graphics, or shorten some bullets and paragraphs.
Although these tips can be a great starting point, remember to have fun. Making memorable handouts gives RDs the opportunity to be creative when educating clients on nutrition topics. And they can engage and encourage clients to reach their health goals. In addition, they’re great resources for interns who want to educate future clients on research, trends, recommendations, and more. Who knows, maybe your handout will end up in an intern’s manilla folder and spark inspiration for a future RD.
— Sophia Condic, MS, RDN, is a Michigan-based dietitian who’s currently working at a community clinic. She’s interested in creating an interdisciplinary career that focuses on mixing the art and science of dietetics.