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Some quick tests to check the effectiveness of your messaging

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

You can conduct many tests to find out how clearly you are communicating and how well your audience understands your messages. Most of the tests are short, simple and no-cost or low-cost to run. So there’s no excuse for not doing them! And the tests make you look competent to your peers and senior managers.

Let’s deal with the most basic test first.

1. Readability of your text

You are no doubt well aware that Microsoft Word offers you substantial assistance to check your text. In my version of Word, by clicking on “Tools” in the toolbar, you can find “Spelling and grammar” and can get the software to check various aspects of your text.

Just be aware that some of the suggested corrections are actually wrong, so tread warily by using this facility only as a means of bringing possible errors to your attention, not as the fountain of wisdom. For instance, my version of Word will tell you sometimes that “their” should be “there” and vice versa when it is quite correct the way you have written it.  

Also, especially when cutting and pasting from websites, it pays to check whether the language of the text is in US or UK English (or, in my case, Australian English). Otherwise, you may find words like “organisation” (UK and Australian English) being out of place in a piece written in US English, which uses the spelling, “organization.” (A good example: my spell checker has just suggested the “a piece” be rewritten as “apiece,” which is entirely different grammatically and totally inappropriate.)

You can analyze the readability of text to determine whether your messages are written at the right educational level for the target audience. Typical measures include the Flesch Formula and the Fog Index, which are based on the concept that the greater the number of syllables in a word and words in a sentence, the more difficult and less readable the text. The tests typically estimate the number of years of education that a reader would need to easily understand the text. For best results, you should always aim to keep your language as simple as possible because more people will understand what you have written. For further details on such formulae, do a Google search.

In the version of Word on my computer, you can go to “Tools” on the toolbar, select “Spelling and Grammar,” and click on “Options...” There you will find a box you can click for “Show readability statistics.”

These basic spelling, grammar and readability checks will help your final version of a text be tight and polished, ready for public consumption. Don't make the common mistake of ignoring the grammar and spelling checks. Even if some of the points being made are incorrect, at least your attention is drawn to them, giving you the opportunity to change them if you wish

2. Measuring information gaps

You can find out how well you are currently communicating on important organizational subjects and whether you are using the channel preferred by your internal or external audience. For instance, it is pointless to use your employee newsletter as the sole source of information about a key issue if your target audience generally prefers to have a dialogue about it face-to-face with their supervisor.

The audience responses would be a valuable guide for you to focus your communication more tightly on what they don’t know, on what they want to know and using channels of communication they prefer.

Typical questions to ask respondents would be:

  1. How interested they are in learning about it (on a scale of 1 to 5).

  2. How well informed they currently believe they are (on a scale of 1 to 5).

  3. What their current sources of information are on that topic (multiple choice).

  4. What their preferred sources are on that topic (multiple choice).

The questions could be put into a matrix, as shown in the table below. (The sample questions in this matrix are very broad. In the workplace you would make them much more specific about the matter you wish to address, and you could include questions on their current sources of information on the topic compared with their preferred sources.)


Selected information How interested I am How well informed I am
Not at all V. interested      Not at all V. interested
1. What I’m expected to do in my job
1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5
2. Superannuation plan and other benefits
1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5
3. How I can help meet objectives
1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5
4. Products and services
1 2 3 4 5
1 2 3 4 5


These types of questions could be included in a short and simple questionnaire. You could put the questionnaire to selected groups in problem areas to identify the nature and extent of communication bottlenecks in those areas.

If people aren’t interested in the information you wish to convey, you can conduct focus groups to find out why, and use the responses to change your communication tactics.

To check that any communication activity initiated after the survey has resulted in a smaller gap between the level of information and the level of interest, you should conduct a follow-up survey.

(I’m indebted to US communication measurement consultant, Angela Sinickas, for this technique.)

3. Knowledge testing

It may be important for stakeholder groups such as supervisors or managers to have a minimum knowledge level about a particular topic, eg planned redundancies or new employee superannuation policy. Testing of knowledge about a particular topic can be administered with questions that have right and wrong answers. The questions can be asked in a true/false format or in a multiple choice format. It is advisable to offer an “I don’t know” option to gauge the number of people who realize that they don’t know the answer. The extent of changes in knowledge can be measured before and after a communication project.

Similar tests can be conducted with external groups.

These quick measurement activities can be conducted at minimal cost. If you want to communicate more effectively, you can use the techniques to improve your focus.

Further simple and effective ways to measure communication activities are explained in other articles in the "Communication measurement" category of articles in the website.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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