Pretest Messages and Materials

Messages and materials, however clear and eye catching they may appear, always need to be pretested. Pretesting involves measuring the reaction of a selected group of individuals representing the intended audience, to draft materials, concepts or messages before they are produced in final form and disseminated.

Unfortunately, the importance of pretesting is often ignored due to time or budget constraints, or due to the belief that the information and materials are suitable for serving their intended purpose. In emergencies, foregoing pretesting may be even more common as key information needs to be conveyed quickly and in a timely manner.

Pretesting, however, is an essential component of all communication messages and materials and ensures that what is designed is really suitable for the intended audiences. Even during the most critical of times, we recommend that programmers try to get hold of key audience members to ensure that messages serve the purpose for which they are intended. The table below highlights a range of important aspects that can be pretested, providing some sample questions of how to assess each one.

Pretesting Concepts
Aspect to be Pretested Description Sample Questions
Attractiveness Whether the message/material commands attention
  • What do you like about this message/materials?
  • What do you not like about this message/material?
  • What was the first thing that caught your eye?
Comprehension Whether the information is understood as intended
  • What does the message/material say?
  • Who do you think the message/material is speaking to?
  • What words/sentences/images are difficult to understand?
Acceptance Whether the material is culturally and socially acceptable
  • Is there anything about this message/material that you find offensive or inappropriate?
  • Is there anything about this message/material that someone in your community may find offensive or inappropriate?
Relevance Whether the information is of interest to the intended audience
  • What type of people do you think should read/watch this message/material?
  • In what way are those people different from you or the same as you?
Call to action Whether the audience understands the call to action
  • What does the message/material ask the audience do to?
Persuasion Whether the key benefit is persuasive and appealing to the intended audience
  • Why do you think you should do what the message/material asks you to do?
  • How likely are you to do that and why?
Improvement If and how the material needs to be improved
  • What would you change in this material / message to make it more appealing to you?
  • What information do you think is missing?
  • What else, if anything, would you like to include in this message / material?

As demonstrated by the aspects in the table above, pretesting serves to assess a range of important aspects that can maximize the effectiveness of messages and materials. Pretesting is therefore a crucial step in the development of a SBCC strategy, even in an emergency situation.

To support the effective pretesting, a list of useful tips is included below. Additional information on pretesting.

Tips for Effective Pretesting

  • Always plan to pretest messages and materials.
  • Conduct an initial pretest with technical experts and gatekeepers to ensure the information is factually correct and acceptable.
  • Conduct the second pretest with representative members of the audience intended for the messages/materials in question.
  • Avoid providing background information and explaining the material at the start of the pretest.
  • Use open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with yes or no).
  • Avoid leading questions.
  • Ask the creative developers of the materials to pretest them as they may be biased and interpret answers incorrectly.