August 19, 2017

Add words, paralyze readers

More information = poorer decisions

“More information doesn’t always improve decision-making; in fact, it can undermine it.”
— Judith H. Hibbard and Ellen Peters, researchers

One of the most complex decisions we ask consumers to make is to choose among health insurance plans.

Add words, paralyze readers

Read between the lines When people have too much information, they opt out of the decision-making process. Image by Pai Shih

It’s not uncommon for consumers to have to compare more than 15 plans on each of 10 to 12 factors. And integrating different types of information and different types of variables makes decision-making even harder, according to researchers (Payne, Bettman and Johnson, 1993; Slovic, 1995).

Making matters worse, this information often:

  • Includes technical terms and complex ideas
  • Requires the reader to weigh factors based on their own values, preferences and needs
  • Calls for readers to also consider coverage, benefits and costs

For instance, if one hospital has high consumer satisfaction scores but average measures of safety and effectiveness, and another is highly effective but ranks low in satisfaction and safety, how do consumers weigh these factors in their choices?

What happens when we give people too much data?

It would seem that the more information we give people, the better off they’d be.

But “having an abundance of information does not always translate into” informed choices, write researchers Judith H. Hibbard and Ellen Peters. “The amount of information may exceed human information processing skills.”

And when that happens, people shut down. They may simplify the decision by relying on others’ advice, by ignoring some of the information or by basing their decisions on the wrong things. Or they may not make a decision at all (Hibbard, Slovic and Jewett, 1997).

Present information to help people choose.

So how can we help?

“How information is presented may be just as influential as what information is presented,” Hibbard and Peters write.

To help the reader understand:

  1. Reduce cognitive effort. Reduce the amount of information you present through decision-support tools, an information intermediary or visual displays of quantifiable information.
  2. Bring the experience to life. Show people what the decision will mean to them in real life through narratives, vivid details and tailoring.
  3. Reframe the data. Help readers see the significance of the information by highlighting, framing and otherwise presenting the data.

“Most presentations of comparative information are based on the assumption that consumers know what is important to them and where their self-interest lies,” Hibbard and Peters write.

“These assumptions are faulty.”

  • Cut Through the Clutter

    Is your copy easy to read? According to communication experts, that’s one of the two key questions people ask to determine whether to read a piece — or toss it.

    Fortunately, academics have tested and quantified what makes copy easy to read. Unfortunately, that research virtually never makes it out of the ivory tower and into the hands of writers who could actually apply it.

    Catch Your Readers - Ann Wylie's persuasive-writing workshop in Kansas City on Nov. 16-17, 2017 imageAt Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on Nov. 16-17 in Kansas City — you’ll leave this session with “the numbers” you need to measurably improve your copy’s readability.

    Specifically, you’ll learn to:

    • Apply a seven-step system for making every piece you write clearer and more concise.
    • Use a cool tool (you probably already have it, but you might not know it) to measurably improve your message's readability.
    • Drastically condense your copy using the fastest, most effective approach. (The way we do it every day takes far more time and makes your message less interesting.)
    • Hit the right targets. How long is too long for your paragraphs? Your sentences? Your words?
    • Increase reading by hitting one key on your keyboard more often.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Catch Your Readers - Ann Wylie's persuasive-writing workshop in Kansas City on Nov. 16-17, 2017

    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Catch Your Readers workshop? Contact Ann directly.


Source: Judith H. Hibbard and Ellen Peters, “Supporting Informed Consumer Health Care Decisions: Data Presentation Approaches that Facilitate the Use of Information in Choice,” Annual Review of Public Health, 2003, Vol. 24, pp. 413-33

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