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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Message Content Order Can Affect Readability and Action

Water line break message

Wireless Emergency Alerts are typically sent during periods of imminent threat, where emotions are heightened and information seeking is likely to intensify. This is especially so for events that are unfamiliar or for those who have limited prior experience. By following a consistent order of contents, message writers can reduce the cognitive effort that is required by message receivers to read and interpret a WEA.

The messages presented here provides great example of how to re-organize the content for ease of reading and responding.

The ORIGINAL MESSAGE issued for a broken water line contains all of the content supported by empirical research.

HAZARD (a water line has been broken)

LOCATION / POPULATION (residents withing [sic] the Town)

SOURCE (Town of Phillipsburg)

GUIDANCE (conserve water or retrieve from the Town Hall)

TIME (until further notice).

It can be considered a 5-STAR message because it is complete and it even adds a bit of politeness (with the words “requesting” followed by thanking the residents for their cooperation).

However, researchers who studied the design of effective WEAs found that there is an order of content is easier to read and most actionable.

That order is:

1) Source

2) Hazard + hazard description

3) Location/Population

4) Guidance

5) Time

This would be followed by “additional information,” such as a URL to a website of social media account that can handle increased traffic. By including a weblink, you direct users to credible information and increase your ability to communicate to them directly now and in the future.

In the EDITED MESSAGE, We provide an edited message to follow this order and use ALL CAPS to call attention to key content. We've also included a URL to direct message receivers to information.

By adopting this order of content, we make it easier for receivers to read and act on WEAs. By socializing a consistent format for ALL of our messaging, we can improve readability and motivation.


Feel free to post this on your social media site, just remember to attribute it to The Warn Room and include the web address: - Thank you!

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