Developing a Message

Missing Content


Basic background information about the water system can be captured in the Water System Information Worksheet. Cdc-word[DOCX – 2 pages]

What’s a Message?

Information a specific audience MOST needs or wants to know.

Essential Information

  • Who you are
  • What action customers should take
  • What event occurred and a description of the problem
  • Where it occurred
  • When it occurred
  • Expected duration
  • Why it happened
  • Who is affected
  • Basic information on the water system
  • Current actions being taken
  • Requested agency responses
  • What public notice is required when appropriate
  • Where to get more information

Tools and templates that can help guide pre-incident message development include:

Basic background information about the water system can be captured in the Water System Information Worksheet Cdc-word[DOCX – 2 pages]. small wrench icon representing tools

Health literacy is the ability to receive, understand, and act on basic health information needed to make good decisions. Nine out of ten people in the United States have limited health literacy—regardless of their education levels. Since advisories require customers to understand a message and take action, health literacy is an important factor for messages and materials.

A first step to ensuring that your advisory can be easily understood by most audiences is to check the readability and grade level of the advisory content. For a general audience, the grade level should be between 5th and 8th grades. Word-processing programs can provide information about a document’s readability. If you are not sure how to check for readability, go to the “Help” section on your word-processing program and search for the term “readability”.

For more information on health literacy guidelines, see Appendix C: Online Resources, Health Literacy.small key representing resources

What is Readability?

A general scale that measures comprehension, or how understandable the text is in a document. Some word processing programs have built in measures for determining the reading level of a document

Advisories need to be translated to reach many customers. Consult with local government to identify the main languages in the service area. Public health departments are a very good resource. Many states and local governments have programs and resources specifically for translation, including sign language and Braille.

Other strategies include partnering with community-based organizations or contracting with a translation service. The EPA Revised Public Notification HandbookExternal small key representing resources and Consumer Confidence ReportsExternal small key representing resources have key phrases translated. The Washington Department of HealthExternal small key representing resources has advisory content translated into several languages.

Community organizations provide a direct, trusted link to diverse populations so make them key contacts in your message distribution plan. Incorporate their skills and outreach strategies into planning for advisory preparation and distribution. Many community organizations have language and sign language translation services. Use these or professional translation services. Avoid using online dictionaries or other computer software to translate messages.

Community organizations can also format messages in forms that are accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, who need pictures or images to understand the message, or who need text or Video Relay Services (video phone) messages.