By: Tyler Boatright
Anyone that knows me well could tell you I’ve always been horrible at giving gifts. Choosing, wrapping, and delivering presents takes many of the same skills as producing educational content. This idea has been on my mind throughout my rotation at the University of Maryland Campus Dining, where my internship partner and I are responsible for producing an enormous amount of educational content. Throughout the last three weeks we’ve made countless posters, table tents, nutrition tips, infographics, and articles. We chose each one carefully, thinking of our audience’s needs, how we would squeeze the information into a small package, design it to hook readers, and then teach a simple nutrition idea related to a complex topic. Creating all of this content has taught me so much selecting appropriate material, packaging it, and delivering it.
Giving a baby a blender isn’t going to go well, no matter how well you wrap it, so the first step is to choose the right gift for the right person. I have found that knowing about my intended audience helps me decide which topics will work best. Should I write about the benefits of fiber for a group of vegetable-eating vegans? Probably not. What about the topic of iron deficiency for a group of meat-eating, middle-aged men? Again, that topic wouldn’t fit. Generalizations aside, it helps to know a little bit about the intended audience to determine what topic would have the greatest positive impact. Many of the educational materials at Campus Dining are intended for busy, tired college students, so they need to be succinct enough to communicate quickly, while still conveying relevant information and explaining complex topics. I try to learn as much as I can about the audience so I can pick out something they’ll love.
You shouldn’t need to take a gift-unwrapping class before playing with your new present and you shouldn’t need a nutrition degree to understand a poster on the cafeteria wall. I have learned to consider how complicated and detailed to make my topic so that I can make sure my audience will understand it. Trying to distill a large, unwieldy topic down to a concentrated concept is difficult and takes practice. I’m constantly asking myself questions like, “Do readers have enough background information? Is this information is absolutely necessary for the reader to know? Am I using any jargon or acronyms that lay people won’t understand? Is the big idea simple enough?” Reducing sentence length, removing big words, and utilizing lists are all important pieces of keeping the readability within the audiences grasp. The best gift is worthless without a box that the recipient can easily open.
Would you rather open the brightly wrapped present covered in ribbons and bows or the dusty cardboard box sitting in the corner? I have learned that perhaps the most important part of this whole process is to make the information interesting with eye-catching design to help hook your reader’s attention. Even if you carefully select information for your target audience and create a clear summary, it may still get ignored if it isn’t packaged in a way that draws attention. Intuitive design and images can also help communicate messages without words, making materials easier to understand for an audience with limited literacy. Given this, I set aside time to fine-tune the wrapping to hopefully lock my audience’s attention on my content.
Over the last few weeks I’ve learned that creating educational materials is a lot like giving a good birthday present. You need to make sure you’re giving something that the recipient will care about, make sure they can understand the information, and wrap it in something that will draw in your reader. I’ve become a much stronger content creator during my time at University of Maryland Campus Dining, and I believe I’ve become a better gift giver too.