Using Plain Language

Stylized words,

In a crisis, people take in, process, and act on information differently than they would outside of an emergency. Effective communication during a crisis should be clear; it should empower people to take actions that will reduce risks to their health and wellbeing.

When people experience intense stress or information overload, they may miss important details in health and safety messages. During a crisis:

  • People may not fully hear information because they can’t juggle multiple facts at once.
  • People may not remember as much information as they normally could.
  • People may misinterpret action messages that are confusing.

When public health guidance is difficult to understand or follow, people may resort to bad habits and long-held practices that could be harmful in an emergency situation. Using simple, plain language can help your messages reach the people who need to act on them.

In a crisis, every word counts. By understanding how people take in information during a crisis, we can better plan to communicate with them using simple messaging.

For more resources and materials on plain language, visit CDC’s Plain Language site.

For more information on CERC visit our website and check out the CERC manual. You can also read previous CERC Corners.

Have you used CERC in your work? To share your CERC stories, e-mail Your stories may appear in future CERC Corners.

Page last reviewed: March 23, 2017 (archived document)