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Designing and Testing the Message


(AED, JHU, and PN 1993)

A crucial step in creating and assessing the effectiveness of health risk communication activities is determining what message ideas or concepts have the best chance of "connecting" with the target audience and influencing them to change behavior if behavior change is the stated objective. This process begins with using formative research and evaluation, a combination of techniques designed to help develop effective messages.

Literature reviews, in-depth interviews, and focus groups are examples of formative research tools that can be used to help determine if one concept is more salient to an audience segment than another, and which concepts should eventually be developed into specific messages. The general approach to pretesting concepts is to share them with members of the target audience and gauge their reactions.

Pretesting is conducted while materials are in draft form, to allow changes to be made without great expense if testing reveals ways to improve the messages or materials. Methods of pretesting include intercept interviews with members of the target audience and focus groups. Pretesting helps determine whether the messages and formats are appropriate, understandable, clear, attention-getting, credible, relevant, and have the desired effect (e.g., to raise awareness about an issue).

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