Readability of the written study information in pediatric research in France.
ABSTRACT The aim was to evaluate the readability of research information leaflets (RIL) for minors asked to participate in biomedical research studies and to assess the factors influencing this readability.
All the pediatric protocols from three French pediatric clinical research units were included (N = 104). Three criteria were used to evaluate readability: length of the text, Flesch's readability score and presence of illustrations. We compared the readability of RIL to texts specifically written for children (school textbooks, school exams or extracts from literary works). We assessed the effect of protocol characteristics on readability. The RIL had a median length of 608 words [350 words, 25(th) percentile; 1005 words, 75(th) percentile], corresponding to two pages. The readability of the RIL, with a median Flesch score of 40 [30; 47], was much poorer than that of pediatric reference texts, with a Flesch score of 67 [60; 73]. A small proportion of RIL (13/91; 14%) were illustrated. The RIL were longer (p<0.001), more readable (p<0.001) and more likely to be illustrated (p<0.009) for industrial than for institutional sponsors.
Researchers should routinely compute the reading ease of study information sheets and make greater efforts to improve the readability of written documents for potential participants.
Article: Variation in standards of research compensation and child assent practices: a comparison of 69 institutional review board-approved informed permission and assent forms for 3 multicenter pediatric clinical trials.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: To systematically compare standards for compensation and child participant assent in informed permission, assent, and consent forms (IP-A-CFs) approved by 55 local institutional review boards (IRBs) reviewing 3 standardized multicenter research protocols. Sixty-nine principal investigators participating in any of 3 national, multicenter clinical trials submitted standardized research protocols for their trials to their local IRBs for approval. Copies of the subsequently IRB-approved IP-A-CFs were then forwarded to an academic clinical research organization. This collection of IRB-approved forms allowed for a quasiexperimental retrospective evaluation of the variation in informed permission, assent, and consent standards operationalized by the local IRBs. Standards for compensation and child participant assent varied substantially across 69 IRB-approved IP-A-CFs. Among the 48 IP-A-CFs offering compensation, monetary compensation was offered by 33 as reimbursement for travel, parking, or food expenses, whereas monetary or material compensation was offered by 22 for subject inconvenience and by 13 for subject time. Compensation ranged widely within and across studies (study 1, $180-1425; study 2, $0-500; and study 3, $0-100). Regarding child participant assent, among the 57 IP-A-CFs that included a form of assent documentation, 33 included a line for assent on the informed permission or consent form, whereas 35 included a separate form written in simplified language. Of the IP-A-CFs that stipulated the documentation of assent, 31 specified > or =1 age ranges for obtaining assent. Informed permission or consent forms were addressed either to parents or child participants. In response to identical clinical trial protocols, local IRBs generate IP-A-CFs that vary considerably regarding compensation and child participant assent.PEDIATRICS 06/2006; 117(5):1706-11. · 4.47 Impact Factor
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: To assess how Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) implement the assent requirement for research with children. Telephone interviews were conducted with 188 chairpersons of IRBs from a range of institutions nationwide. Respondents were queried on 4 topics: 1) which children are considered capable of assent, 2) which information investigators must provide pediatric research subjects, 3) whether IRBs favor the enrollment of children who are capable of assent, and 4) how chairpersons view payment for children's research participation. Half of IRBs have a method that they require investigators to follow when determining which children are capable of assent, most commonly an age cutoff. Half of IRBs do not have a method, and the majority rely on investigators' clinical judgment. IRBs largely follow the adult research regulations when determining which information should be provided to an assenting child. A total of 58% of IRBs would enroll a child who is incapable of assent in a nonbeneficial study, even if children who are capable of assent could be enrolled instead. Almost half (46%) of chairpersons believe that it sometimes or always acceptable to offer incentive payments to children, and more than one third (35%) thought it acceptable to offer payment to the parents. When possible, IRBs follow the federal regulations for research with adults when implementing the assent requirement. For considerations that do not have analogs in the adult regulations, IRB practices vary widely. These data suggest that IRBs need guidance on how to implement the assent requirement in a way that provides appropriate protections for pediatric research subjects.PEDIATRICS 07/2004; 113(6):1747-52. · 4.47 Impact Factor
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: A great deal of attention has been paid to ensuring that surgical consent forms have valid content, but little effort has been made to ensure that the average patient can read and understand them. Five representative surgical consent forms were analyzed with two standardized readability tests. The readability of all five was approximately equivalent to that of material intended for upper-division undergraduates or graduate students. Four of the five forms were written at the level of a scientific journal, and the fifth at the level of a specialized academic magazine. I suggest that few consent forms currently in use could pass readability tests. The implication of these findings is that thousands of persons may be undergoing surgery each year on the basis of inadequate consent. The problem has a reasonably simple solution: analysis of all consent forms for readability, and rewriting of those found excessively difficult.New England Journal of Medicine 05/1980; 302(16):900-2. · 53.30 Impact Factor
Readability of the Written Study Information in Pediatric
Research in France
Ve ´ronique Me ´noni1,2,3, Noe ¨l Lucas4, Jean-Franc ¸ois Leforestier4, Franc ¸ois Doz5, Gilles Chatellier4,
Evelyne Jacqz-Aigain6, Carole Giraud1,3,8, Jean-Marc Tre ´luyer1,3,7,8, He ´le `ne Chappuy1,2,8,9*
1Unite ´ de Recherche Clinique Paris Centre, Ho ˆpital Necker Enfants Malades, Assistance Publique Ho ˆpitaux de Paris, Paris, France, 2Laboratoire d’Ethique Me ´dicale,
Universite ´ Paris Descartes, Paris, France, 3CIC P0901 Me `re Enfant, Inserm, Ho ˆpital Necker Enfants Malades, Assistance Publique Ho ˆpitaux de Paris, Universite ´ Paris
Descartes, Paris, France, 4CIC E4 Inserm, Ho ˆpital Europe ´en Georges Pompidou, Assistance Publique Ho ˆpitaux de Paris, Universite ´ Paris Descartes, Paris, France, 5Service
de pe ´diatrie, Institut Curie, Universite ´ Paris Descartes, Paris, France, 6Centre d’Investigation Clinique Inserm 9202, Ho ˆpital Robert Debre ´, Assistance Publique Ho ˆpitaux de
Paris, Paris, France, 7Pharmacologie, Groupe Hospitalier Broca Cochin Ho ˆtel Dieu, Assistance Publique Ho ˆpitaux de Paris, Paris, France, 8EA3620, Universite ´ Paris
Descartes, Paris, France, 9Service d’Urgences Pe ´diatriques, Ho ˆpital Necker Enfants Malades, Assistance Publique Ho ˆpitaux de Paris, Paris, France
Background: The aim was to evaluate the readability of research information leaflets (RIL) for minors asked to participate in
biomedical research studies and to assess the factors influencing this readability.
Methods and Findings: All the pediatric protocols from three French pediatric clinical research units were included
(N=104). Three criteria were used to evaluate readability: length of the text, Flesch’s readability score and presence of
illustrations. We compared the readability of RIL to texts specifically written for children (school textbooks, school exams or
extracts from literary works). We assessed the effect of protocol characteristics on readability. The RIL had a median length
of 608 words [350 words, 25thpercentile; 1005 words, 75thpercentile], corresponding to two pages. The readability of the
RIL, with a median Flesch score of 40 [30; 47], was much poorer than that of pediatric reference texts, with a Flesch score of
67 [60; 73]. A small proportion of RIL (13/91; 14%) were illustrated. The RIL were longer (p,0.001), more readable (p,0.001)
and more likely to be illustrated (p,0.009) for industrial than for institutional sponsors.
Conclusion: Researchers should routinely compute the reading ease of study information sheets and make greater efforts to
improve the readability of written documents for potential participants.
Citation: Me ´noni V, Lucas N, Leforestier J-F, Doz F, Chatellier G, et al. (2011) Readability of the Written Study Information in Pediatric Research in France. PLoS
ONE 6(4): e18484. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018484
Editor: Lisa Hartling, Alberta Research Centre for Health Evidence, University of Alberta, Canada
Received November 2, 2010; Accepted March 9, 2011; Published April 6, 2011
Copyright: ? 2011 Menoni et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: This study was funded by the Assistance Publique des Ho ˆpitaux de Paris as a Programme Hospitalier de Recherche Clinique. The funders had no role in
study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
* E-mail: email@example.com
The participation of minors in clinical research protocols
requires authorization from their legal guardians. However, this
authorization cannot override the refusal of the child [1,2]. The
investigating pediatrician must therefore seek the child’s voluntary
cooperation in the research protocol, after providing the child with
information appropriate for his or her level of development .
European regulations require pediatric patients to be provided
with information about studies in which they are asked to
participate, including their risks and benefits, in a language that
the child is likely to understand . The way in which information
is delivered to a child for possible inclusion in a research protocol
must be approved by the institutional review board.
Although there is no consensus regarding the use of a separate
assent document for research, many institutional review boards
require their use when presenting study information for children
. Therefore, if required, assent forms should be written and
presented in a manner that optimizes understanding. Depending
on the age of the child, the information supplied may be provided
on an assent form written either exclusively for the child or for
both parents and children [5,6].
The information and consent forms for adults (patients or
parents) asked to participate in clinical research studies have
been evaluated by several researchers, using readability indices,
such as that of Flesch [7–18]. Documents for adults are
generally long (more than five pages) and of poor readability.
Is this also the case for the research information leaflets (RIL)
for children? There is no recent publication about the measure
of the readability of children’s written study information, only
for children’s health literacy . Most studies in this domain
have targeted parents. Only one article to date has reported the
readability of written study information for minors . Based
on a single RIL, the authors showed that improvements in the
readability of this document were accompanied by improve-
ments in both the acceptance of the study and its understanding
The aim of our study was to evaluate the readability of a large
sample of pediatric RIL in clinical research and to assess the
factors influencing this readability, to determine whether efforts
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org1 April 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 4 | e18484
are required to improve the readability of pediatric RIL in clinical
Collection of information documents
We collected all the pediatric research protocols from three
public pediatric clinical research centers in France. All protocols
had been authorized by the Comite ´ de Protection des Personnes
(institutional review board, IRB) between 2002 and 2009. For
each protocol, we determined: the goal of the study (therapeutic
or not), the type of sponsor (industrial or institutional), the year in
which the IRB authorized the study, the field of medical research
(oncology or other), whether a randomization procedure was
used, whether the disease addressed by the protocol was
potentially life-threatening, the phase level of the study (I, II,
III or IV) and whether the protocol involved invasive tests (other
than taking blood). Pediatric protocols including only children
under the age of six years (corresponding to the age at which
children learn to read in France) or unconscious children were
excluded. RIL for children were collected and classified by age, if
the ages of the children to be included were indicated in the
inclusion criteria of the protocol or in the document itself. RIL
were assigned to four categories on the basis of the age of the
intended reader (figure 1): child (age between 6 and 11 years),
adolescent (age between 12 and 17 years), child and adolescent
(age unspecified, 6 to 17 years), and RIL written for parents, to
allow them to communicate the necessary information to their
children and including a specific space for the child to sign
We evaluated readability on the basis of three criteria: length
of the text, Flesch readability score and the presence of
illustrations . Text length was determined by a word count.
Flesch score  was calculated as follows: 206.835 - (1.015sl) –
(0.846wl), where sl is sentence length (mean number of words per
sentence) and wl is word length (mean number of syllables per
word). The resulting score lies between 0 for texts that are not
easily understood, and 100 for readily understandable texts.
Scores between 60 and 70 are considered to be the standard
reading range for the general population. This score can be
calculated with Microsoft WordH software for texts written in
English. For texts written in French, we have developed a Flesch
score calculator, which is now freely available . The presence
of illustrations (pictures, diagrams or tables) was checked
Texts appropriate for readers of particular ages were used:
extracts from textbooks written for children of 6 to 8 years of age
or of 9 to 11 years of age, texts from French national examinations
performed in 2000 to 2009 for the Brevet National des Colle `ges
targeting 14-year-old adolescents, extracts from children’s litera-
ture (Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Prince,
Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Babar).
RIL for both parents and children were used as comparison
texts for RIL written for children, because these texts were mainly
targeted at adults.
The RIL computer files were collected and analyzed with a
PERL script that we had previously developed . Statistical
analyses were performed with NCSSH software. Continuous
variables are presented as medians, with 25thand 75thpercentiles.
Fisher’s exact test was used to compare categorical variables.
Nonparametric Mann and Whitney or Kruskal–Wallis tests were
used to compare continuous variables, and Tukey-Kramer tests
were used for multiple comparisons. A p value ,0.05 was
We included 104 pediatric protocols. Protocols including only
patients who could not read, either because they were unconscious
(N=2) or because they were too young (under the age of six years,
N=10) were excluded. We also excluded protocols in which there
was no written information for children (N=20). For the
remaining 72 protocols, we collected 91 RIL, which we then
classified according to the age of the targeted reader (figure 1).
All the data concerning research information leaflet character-
istics are included in table 1, other than the year in which IRB
approval was obtained. Twenty-nine of the RIL (32%) were from
oncological studies, whereas the other 62 RIL (68%) encompassed
19 different pediatric specialties: surgical specialties (n=11, 18%)
such as cardiac, orthopedic, ophthalmologic and dental surgery,
for example and non surgical specialties (n=51, 82%), such as
infection biology, rheumatology, intensive care, nephrology,
diabetology and nutrition for the most part.
Length of the text
The RIL analyzed comprised a median of 743 words [434;
1211], corresponding to three pages. RIL specifically written for
children were significantly (p,0.001) shorter than those written for
both parents and children: 608 words [353; 972] versus 1134 [913;
1423] (table 2).
An industrial sponsor was the only variable having a significant
effect on the length of the RIL (word count). RIL coming from
studies having an industrial sponsor were longer (P,0.001) than
those from protocols having an institutional sponsor: 1257
[948; 2016] vs. 635 [355; 997]. The other variables studied (year
of approval by the IRB, field of medical research, goal of study,
phase level, presence of randomization, invasive tests and life-
threatening condition) had no effect on RIL length.
Flesch readability score
The total Flesch score of the RIL analyzed was 35 [26; 45]. RIL
written specifically for children were significantly (p,0.001) more
readable than those written for both parents and children: 40
[30; 47] versus 25 [22; 28]. This readability was much lower than
that of the texts usually read by children. Textbooks for children
aged from six to eight years, books for children aged from 9 to 11
years and extracts from children’s literature had Flesch scores of
68 [62; 77], 67 [61; 73] and 68 [55; 76], respectively. French
national examination texts used to assess French children’s
performances in the Brevet National des Colle `ges (a national
examination for children aged 14 to 15 years) had a Flesch score
of 62 [55; 69]. Pediatric RIL were significantly (p,0.001) less
readable than each of these categories of comparison texts
Two of the other variables studied were significantly associated
with the Flesch score of RIL. RIL from protocols with an
industrial sponsor were more readable (p,0.001) than RIL from
protocols with an institutional sponsor: 46 [40; 52] vs 30 [25; 42].
RIL from phase I and phase II drug trial protocols were more
Readability of the Written Study Information
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org2 April 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 4 | e18484
readable (p,0.001) than RIL from phase III and phase IV drug
trial protocols: 44 [32; 52] vs 31 [23; 43].
Presence of illustrations
Only a small proportion of the RIL analyzed (13/91; 14%)
contained an illustration: a drawing to brighten up the document
(either linked to the research or purely decorative), a diagram or a
table explaining how the study would be carried out, a diagram or
photograph of the procedure evaluated in the protocol (medical
equipment, surgical procedure). With the exception of the
examination papers, all the comparison texts were illustrated
(54/64; 84%). RIL from protocols with industrial sponsors were
more frequently illustrated than RIL from protocols with
institutional sponsors (38% vs 9%; p=0.009). None of the RIL
from non therapeutic protocols was illustrated (p,0.001).
Illustrations were present in 23% of the RIL from phase I and
phase II trials, versus only 8% of RIL from phase III and IV trials
Current regulations [1–6] require pediatric patients to be
informed, but not necessarily with a written document. However,
78% of our sample of pediatric protocols included the provision of
written study information specifically for children. This finding is
consistent with those of Whittle et al. , who interviewed 188
chairpersons of IRBs and reported that 68% of them felt that
pediatric information should also be delivered in writing. Similarly,
Kimberly  showed, by analyzing the decisions of 55 IRBs
concerning 69pediatricprotocols, that83%of the protocolsaccepted
included documentation destined for the child, often divided into two
sequential age ranges, each with a different mode of documentation.
Our study is the first to evaluate the readability of RIL from
various sponsors as a function of the type of sponsor, aim of the
study and risks. The initial sample of 104 protocols was fairly
representative of pediatric biomedical research in France. Indeed,
on September 27th2010, a search of the Clinicaltrials.gov site
Figure 1. Flow chart of the study. RIL: Research Information Leaflet.
Readability of the Written Study Information
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org3April 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 4 | e18484
found 270 ongoing interventional pediatric protocols in France.
Our study included 40% of these protocols.
Based on our three criteria — Flesch score, length of the text
and presence of illustrations — the RIL readability was poorer
than that of other French texts destined for children. Several
publications have dealt with the readability score of health
documents for English, but not with complete pediatric RIL.
Most child health information was written at a level above that
appropriate for tenth grade .
RIL for both parents and children and most of the RIL for
children alone contained no illustrations. Only 13 illustrations
were identified and they varied considerably in type, as indicated
in the [results] section. We are not aware of any study
demonstrating illustrations to be useful in themselves in informa-
tion documents for pediatric clinical studies, but many texts for
children include illustrations. Textbooks and children’s literature,
which contribute to teaching and education, contained many
illustrations, highlighting their importance for a young readership.
A good understanding of text often requires is the reader to be able
to process elaboratively (i.e., to form vivid mental images of the
events of the study). Houts et al.  showed that the use of
pictographs significantly increases the understanding of medical
information among patients with low literacy levels.
The widely used Flesch score evaluates the readability of a text as
a function of the length of the words and sentences used and has
been validated and extensively used for the evaluation of written
information readability [8–18,20–22]. It therefore facilitates the
rapid, objective and quantitative analysis of the complexity of a text.
Using it, we found that the texts we selected as comparison texts
obtained much higher Flesch scores than RIL, demonstrating the
sensitivity of this tool. This score does not reflect the level of patient
understanding, because the understanding of any particular
individual depends on intrinsic factors (for example, first language,
culture, level of education, age etc.). RIL destined for both parents
and children, as expected, were less readable than those destined
solely for the child. The Flesch index values obtained were very low
for information documents destined for both parents and children.
The readability of these documents was equivalent to that of
documentsdestinedforadultsonly ,and wasvery differentfrom
that for texts destined for minors, accounting for the large difference
between the values obtained for this type of text and the other
categories. There are various issues concerning the ethics of a form
Table 1. Characteristics of research information leaflets.
Sponsor Medical fieldGoalPhase RandomizationInvasive tests Vital prognosis
euticOthersI/II III/IV YesNo YesNo YesNo
N 751629 62 6031 2625 4051 39 524843
25th Percentile254023 2827 26322328 252528 2528
Median30 46 343738 30443138 3134383438
P value0.0005*0.5832 0.2278 0.012* 0.52770.2946 0.2822
25th Percentile355948462320460326487531 449358434422447 348
Median635 1257638841707 759754856847635726751624856
75th Percentile997201610941357 118013241384130214481118 1239118010751417
, ,0.0001*0.7569 0.3633 0.81680.0972 0.85800.3085
%9 3871822 023 820 1018 121712
Table 2. Readability data for 91 research information leaflets used in biomedical research studies, classified by age of the intended
Child 6–11 y
Adolescent 12–17 y
adolescent 6–17 y
Common RIL for
Parents/Child (group D)
Number of RIL, n (%)15 (16%)20 (22%)37 (41%) 19 (21%)
RIL with illustration, n (%)7 (47%) 5 (25%)1(3%)0
Text length in words, median [25th; 75th percentiles]607 [464; 869]1225 [784; 1819]456 [292; 706]1134 [836; 1429]
Flesch score, median [25th; 75th percentiles] 46 [38; 52]40 [30; 47] 37 [27; 43] 25 [22; 28]
Text length and Flesch score also differed significantly between the 4 groups (p,0.001).
Readability of the Written Study Information
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org4April 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 4 | e18484
destined for both the adult and the child. In addition to the
difficulties a child is likely to experience in reading a document
written for adults, the information included and the manner of
expressing that information should be different in a document
intended for children, particularly for the youngest children.
The RIL from phase I and II trials (with an industrial or
institutional sponsor) were more readable and more likely to be
illustrated than the RIL from phase III and IV protocols. This
better readability and presentation may be due to the particular
context of phase I and II protocols, in which the evaluation of drug
risks is often the main aim of the study and which often include
children who have experienced treatment failure. A similar
observation was recently made by Cheung et al. , during an
analysis of the readability of informed consent forms for adults.
It is somewhat impractical in the clinical setting to provide
multiple assent forms written to satisfy all ages and/or reading
abilities. Tait et al.  demonstrated that a single modified assent
form appeared to close the gap in understanding between the
younger and older children. This suggests that use of a modified
format will be important in providing younger children with
developmentally appropriate information that can enhance their
The readability of written study information intended for
children asked to participate in clinical research was uniformly
poor, and much worse than that of the texts usually read by
children. Study information is written and presented with little
consideration for the literacy, cognitive abilities and preferences of
children, and this may be an ethical issue. Researchers should
routinely compute the reading ease of study information sheets and
make greatereffortstoimprove thereadabilityofwritten documents
for potential participants. Both the investigators and the IRBs
should check these documents to ensure that their readability is
appropriate for the age of the children targeted. Flesch scores are
thus a potentially useful tool for improving the readability of
information documents. Additional work should focus on how best
to present information to children so that they are able to choose
howmuchinformation they require and investigatorscanlearnhow
best to educate their young potential research subjects.
We thank Mrs. Sylvie Maral and Mrs. Christelle Conde for their assistance
with the collection of the documents.
Conceived and designed the experiments: VM NL GC J-MT HC.
Performed the experiments: VM NL GC J-MT HC. Analyzed the data:
VM NL GC J-MT HC. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools:
VM NL GC J-MT HC J-FL. Wrote the paper: VM NL GC J-MT HC FD
Figure 2. Comparison of the Flesch scores of RIL and comparison texts.
Readability of the Written Study Information
PLoS ONE | www.plosone.org5April 2011 | Volume 6 | Issue 4 | e18484
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