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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Punctuation and Abbreviation - suggestions to improve readability


an evacuation warning for an unknown hazard

WEA 2.0 made it possible to devlier messages with 360 characters, yet we frequently find that message writers don't make use of all that space. We think there is a belief that "shorter is better" and therefore, abbreviating words will make it simpler for the message reader to get through a message quickly and act faster. Not so fast...


The "evac warning" message issued here is filled with abbreviations - evac, N, S., E, W, Ca, Ave, CA. It's also missing a lot of useful punctuation that would make it easier to read. And the message is only 225 characters, leaving PLENTY of space to spell out words completely, and add a few thoughtfully placed commas and periods.


a revised evacuation warning for wildfire hazard

On the right is our revised message. We started by adding the name of the message sender (we only know this because the original was posted to PBS.Warn). We follow the order of contents found in the Warning Response Model, and insert the name of the hazard, the location, and the time next. This is followed by the protective actions that are recommended for those at risk (and their pets). We spelled out every word and added punctuation where it was necessary. The revised message tops off at 345 characters - with room to spare to edit the name of the neighborhood that is under a wildfire warning [in brackets], or add a URL for more information.


We also use ALL CAPS to call attention to key words that we want to have stand out in the body of the text. Words in CAPS such as WILDFIRE WARNING or PREPARE, LEAVE, EVACUATION, and BRING PETS helps to focus people's eyes and memory on those words.


Following the consistent order of contents (source, hazard, location, time, guidance) will also help to build familiarity among message receivers as WEA is used more frequently across jurisdictions and alerting authorities.


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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