Evaluating Risk Communication: Examining Target Audience Perceptions About Four Presentation Formats for Fish Consumption Health Advisory Information

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Information format can influence the extent to which target audiences understand and respond to risk-related information. This study examined four elements of risk information presentation format. Using printed materials, we examined target audience perceptions about: (a) reading level; (b) use of diagrams vs. text; (c) commanding versus cajoling tone; and (d) use of qualitative vs. quantitative information presented in a risk ladder. We used the risk communication topic of human health concerns related to eating noncommercial Great Lakes fish affected by chemical contaminants. Results from the comparisons of specific communication formats indicated that multiple formats are required to meet the needs of a significant percent of anglers for three of the four format types examined. Advisory text should be reviewed to ensure the reading level is geared to abilities of the target audience. For many audiences, a combination of qualitative and quantitative information, and a combination of diagrams and text may be most effective. For most audiences, a cajoling rather than commanding tone better provides them with the information they need to make a decision about fish consumption. Segmenting audiences regarding information needs and communication formats may help clarify which approaches to take with each audience.

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