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Develop a Communication Strategy

​Use Communication Theory to Target and Tailor Messages

There is a substantial body of literature on message design within health communication that can be used to inform message content and intervention design. Messages are more likely to be compelling and evoke a behavioral response if they are grounded in communication and behavioral change theory, and are linked to specific desired outcomes.

For example, message design that complies with gain frame or loss frame appeals may be more effective. Research shows that patients are more willing to undergo an unpleasant task or procedure - such as a mammogram or colonoscopy - if they are presented with the positive rewards (gain frame appeal) for that behavior, such as peace of mind. Conversely, they are more likely to take action to avoid risks when they are reminded of potential negative outcomes (1) (loss frame appeal) apply sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, for instance. Thoughtful and deliberate framing of messages will improve the likelihood that your intervention is effective. 

Using a message library to explicate and link every message to a specific desired outcome and communication theory or evidence can help researches design a stronger intervention. The table below illustrates use of a message library.  


Message Type/Outcome

Message Content

Character Count




Theoretical Construct

Reminder: regular exercise for increased fitness and weight loss

30 minutes of exercise each day can improve your mood, increase your energy, and help you get back into your favorite pair of jeans!




Women ages 35-50

Gain frame

Risk: Exercise

Gain: mood, energy, and appearance

​Two other forms of message tailoring are personalization and feedback. Personalizing messages can get the user’s attention because the message is sent specifically to that person, which can be a motivating factor. Depending on your intervention and desired outcomes, you may decide to use a 2-way texting system that provides feedback to information sent to you from the user. You may, for example, send a message saying, "You are only eating an average 2 servings of vegetables per day. According to the FDA, you should be eating an additional 2." Providing specific feedback and instructions can be an effective way of promoting behavior change.(2)​


  1. Hawkins, R P, Kreuter M, Resnicow K, Fishbein M & Dijkstra A. (2008). Understanding tailoring in communicating about health. ​Health Education Research, 23(3), 454-466.
  2. 1. Rothman A, Bartels R, Wlaschin J, Salovey P. The strategic use of gain and loss framed messages to promote health behavior: how theory can inform practice. Journal of Communication 2006; 56:S202-S220.

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