Apply the UPL

Principle 7: Format Materials 
for Understanding

The format of our materials strongly influences how well patients understand our content; we should prioritize formatting for patient understanding. Our layouts should... Read More

The format of our materials strongly influences how well patients understand our content; we should prioritize formatting for patient understanding. Our layouts should always be clear and designed with purpose, so that patients can more easily navigate our communications. We can make our materials more understandable by presenting clear and compelling stories that are relatable to patients.

We believe that when we format for understanding, patients spend more time reading our communications, retain more of the information we provide, and derive greater value from our materials.

Tool: UPL Rules

The UPL Rules provide detailed guidance on how each of the Principles can be applied in practice. We think the UPL Rules are the best way to get a good understanding of how to put the UPL into practice.

Below is a sample of rules pertaining to Format Materials for Understanding:

Rule 41. Use hierarchy and emphasis to focus the viewer’s attention on the page and shape the sequence in which they 
read it.

  • Readers will usually begin reading a page in the top left corner, moving from left to right, from top to bottom.
  • Larger elements (visuals, headlines) will command more attention and be the first landing point for the viewer’s eye.
  • People’s attention will immediately be drawn to images representing the human face, so place human images adjacent to the most important element(s) on the page.
  • a. Use titles to categorize information in a way that directly addresses patient needs.
  • b. Use sub-headings and captions to support or elaborate on information conveyed through headlines.
  • c. Use consistent formatting for each level of hierarchy (i.e., establish styles for treating each level consistently).

Rule 44. Use white space generously and deliberately. White space refers to the following: space around graphics, margins, paddings, and gutters; line-spacing and letter-spacing within text; and space between columns.

  • a. Use white space to create focus around important text or images and guide the reader around the page.

    A page full of text and images with limited white space is visually and cognitively overwhelming.

  • b. Provide ample white space around text to improve readability and scannability.

    For more on white space, see this article:

Rule 45. The layout of the document should support how patients would use the provided information.

  • a. Information that is provided for reference should include elements like tabs to help patients quickly navigate to the right section.
  • b. Information that is intended to guide patient actions should be formatted like a checklist.
  • c. Space for note-taking should be integrated with the content on which patients might like to take notes, rather than relegated to separate note pages or sections.
  • d. If the document is intended for a binder, leave a margin big enough for hole punching along one edge (at least 1”).

Download the complete set 
of UPL Rules:

Ready But Limited

This tool still has areas for improvement, and more resources will be added over time.

Tool: UPL Style Guide

The Style Guide offers detailed guidance on how patient materials created with UPL should look and feel. It provides specific guidance on how to format for understanding.

Style Guide topic examples related to Format Materials for Understanding include:


Typography can greatly impact the readability of a body of text. It becomes even more important when designing for patients, as their physical and emotional burdens can affect their ability to read and comprehend.

In this section you will find guidance on typographical hierarchy, line length, and spacing to help you better format your materials for patient understanding.


Download the complete
UPL Style Guide:

Primed & Polished

This tool has been validated extensively, and significant changes will be infrequent.

Case Study Highlight

Redesigning How We Communicate Drug Safety Information

This case study illustrates our redesign of how we communicate drug safety information using the UPL. Traditionally, drug safety information is developed within a fixed, text-only template. One of the main features of the UPL version of the drug safety information is that we formatted for understanding using white space, bolded text and titles, and icons.

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