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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Is it important to SHOUT and yell !!!!! in a Warning Message?

a warning using lots of capitalized words and exclamation points for a shelter in place message.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are designed to notify people of dangerous and imminent threats that require quick or immediate action. The system is intentionally disruptive, taking over the message receiver's phone screen, sound, and vibration. It can be startling and jarring. With some many of our senses being alerted at once, is it also important to use ALL CAPS and !!!!!! to get the point across? Evidence would say no.

Conventional use of SMS channels suggests that the use of ALL CAPS is akin to yelling. When an entire message is written in ALL CAPS, it is difficult to read and creates problems for text to voice readers. The use of exclamation points also calls attention to the importance of words and emotions. Prior research the use of both conventions has shown that it affects message sharing (presumably because it is viewed as more important in urgency).

In this message, we can imagine that the sender is yelling - loudly - and with great urgency. Their repetitve use of the word ATTENTION calls to mind audible signals that function to cut through a noisy room. This is reinforced by the statement that the message is an "emergency broadcast !!!!!!" The remainder of the message follows some of the Warning Response Model (WRM) guidance on effective messaging - it includes the source, the recommended actions, and the location. But it requires the message receiver to determine what may be taking place by interpreting clues within the message. Thse who aren't inclined to immediately follow instructions like these may search for more information before acting.

When coupled with the loud and disruptive tones and haptics of a WEA, we can imagine that the reciever is going to pay attention rather quickly. Whether the addition of repetitive words in ALL CAPS and !!!! adds value to the message or motivates people to act quickly is a question for researchers. We'd suggest also investigating if these additions make the organization look more credible and trustworthy.

In the meantime, The Warn Room has proposed a few changes to the message. You can view them in the revised version below. Here we use the order of content that is recommended in the WRM, make use of ALL CAPS to call attention to specific words in the message that we want people to notice. We also identify the threat (in a vague way), and add to the instructions by using plain language to say "shelter in place." And finally, we let message receivers know how to find more information on their own and what to expect from the message sender (that a follow up will be issued).

a revised shelter in place message that uses all caps to visually emphasize specific words.

For more recommended contents, be sure to download The Warning Lexicon - it's free and offers step-by-step instructions on how to write a better warning message.


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