Reader feedback in text design

Validity of the plus-minus method for the pretesting of public information brochures


Author: Menno de Jong
Brochures play a significant role in governmental public information provision. Every year many brochures are distributed to inform, instruct or persuade people. These brochures may benefit from a systematic design process, including applied research such as pretesting. Among communication professionals, the importance of pretesting is practically undisputed. Readers from the target audience are assumed to provide valuable insights into whether a document really works. Organizations therefore increasingly try to include a pretest in the design process of important documents. Various pretest methods have been developed and are being used in practice. However, little is known yet about the merits and restrictions of the available approaches. This book provides a framework for scholarly research into pretesting, and presents a series of studies into the validity of one particular pretest instrument: a combination of the plus-minus method and a semi-structured questionnaire. This is one of the prevailing pretest approaches in the Dutch public information sector. The validity of the pretest instrument is assessed in two complementary ways. First, the question is addressed as to whether a revision on the basis of pretest results actually leads to an improvement in the functional quality of brochures. Second, a study is presented in which text and subject-matter experts judge the importance of pretest results. The pretest instrument appears to yield a large amount and a great variety of reader feedback, which in a subsequent revision may contribute to significant improvements in the effectiveness of brochures.

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”… a well-written monograph that researchers and graduate students conducting document design research should add to their personal libraries.” in: Technical Communication, Vol. 47, No. 2, May 2000
1 Research questions and background of the study. 2 Research into text evaluation: Issues, designs, and results. 3 Validity of the pretest instrument for informative and instructional brochures. 4 Validity of the pretest instrument for persuasive brochures. 5 Expert judgments about reader feedback: Additional evidence on the usefulness of pretest results. 6 Sample size and reliability: How many participants are needed? 7 General discussion. Notes. References. Appendix 1: Instructions for the plus-minus method. Appendix 2: Examples of questions in the independent-groups experiments.