A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.

Risk Communication

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Action Research and Wicked Environmental Problems: Exploring Appropriate Roles for Researchers in Professional Communication   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The authors report on a 3-year action-research project designed to facilitate public involvement in the planned dredging of a canal and subsequent disposal of the dredged sediments. Their study reveals ways that community members struggle to define the problem and work together as they gather, share, and understand data relevant to that problem. The authors argue that the primary goal of action research related to environmental risk should be to identify and support the strategies used by community members rather than to educate the public. The authors maintain that this approach must be supported by a thorough investigation of basic rhetorical issues (audience, genre, stases, invention), and they illustrate how they used this approach in their study.

Blythe, Stuart, Jeffrey T. Grabill and Kirk Riley. Journal of Business and Technical Communication (2008). Articles>Risk Communication>Community Building>Environmental


And Now, From the Company that Brought You the Seven-Eyed Trout: Risk Communication in Action   (PDF)

Risk communication is usually defined as an interactive process of exchanging information and opinions among individuals, groups, and institutions or agencies concerning a risk or potential risk to human health, safety, or the environment. It draws from established principles of sociology and psychology to communicate with hostile or frightened audiences about sensitive issues. The demonstration illustrates the most important principles of risk communication as they are applied to a fictitious community.

Durbin, Margaret E., Linnea E. Wahl, S.T. Molony, Susan Klein and Carol Wade. STC Proceedings (1993). Articles>Risk Communication


The Art of Risk Communication: Overcoming the Public Fear Surrounding Controversial Projects   (PDF)

Technical writers and editors in the environmental field can make additional contributions to the document production process by becoming familiar with risk communication principles. These principles can help us communicate more effectively with the public about controversial environmental projects, which are ever increasing. Considering the public's power to delay such projects, our ability to diminish public opposition through good risk communication skills is invaluable.

Barr, Christine R. STC Proceedings (1994). Articles>Risk Communication>Environmental>Writing


Bird Flu: Communicating the Risk

Most people have already heard a little about bird flu. But people face a host of other problems, and except for public health officials and poultry farmers, few are gearing up for action about H5N1 [the virus that causes the flu]. Yet.

Sandman, Peter M. and Jody Lanard. Communication World Bulletin (2006). Articles>Risk Communication>Biomedical


Calling All Communication Professionals: Test Your Crisis Plan—Now

We are all well aware of the importance of a crisis communication plan. But many of us don't realize the necessity of conducting actual simulations to test and evaluate these plans. Whether you are on the corporate or agency side, there are countless forms of crisis that could interrupt business continuity for you and your client.

Moed, Ed. Communication World Bulletin (2006). Articles>Business Communication>Risk Communication


A Case Study of Health Risk Communication: What the Public Wants and What it Gets   (peer-reviewed)

The task of informing the public about various health risks is fraught with many problems. It is essential to overcome them if risk communication is to be improved. In 1989, the National Research Council (NRC) released a report that is important for many reasons. In particular, it helped establish a conceptual framework for risk communication and identified a research agenda to improve risk communication practices. One area of need identified by the report was better use of case studies to understand, e.g., 'how people react to different types of messages and channels; [and] what their actual concerns, frustrations, and data needs are' with regard to particular health risks.

Trauth, Jeannette M. Franklin Pierce Law Center (1994). Articles>Risk Communication>Biomedical


La Catastrofe del Trasbordador Espacial

El lamentable accidente del trasbordador Columbia ha propiciado la creación de innumerables gráficos para explicar lo que pasó. Revisamos la importancia de la visualización en este accidente y, especialmente, en el del Challenger en 1986.

Dursteler, Juan Carlos. InfoVis (2003). (Spanish) Articles>Risk Communication>Technical Illustration


Catastrophe Discourse in Microbiology, Its Rhetorical Form and Political Function   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Discourses evoking an antibiotic apocalypse and a war on superbugs are emerging just at a time when so-called "catastrophe discourses" are undergoing critical and reflexive scrutiny in the context of global warming and climate change. This article combines insights from social science research into climate change discourses with applied metaphor research based on recent advances in cognitive linguistics, especially with relation to "discourse metaphors." It traces the emergence of a new apocalyptic discourse in microbiology and health care, examines its rhetorical and political function and discusses its advantages and disadvantages. It contains a reply by the author of the central discourse metaphor, "the post-antibiotic apocalypse," examined in the article.

Nerlich, Brigitte and Richard James. Public Understanding of Science (2009). Articles>Scientific Communication>Biomedical>Risk Communication


Caution--Warning Ahead!   (members only)

Safety and warning notices form the most important elements of user information wherever safety and [product liability are concerned. A carefully thought out and systematic process is required in developing safety-relevant information, in order to increase the completeness and comprehensibility of product safety. This will also disarm any suspicion of gross negligence in internal documentation in case of missing safety notices and it will ensure traceability.

Schmeling, Roland. tekom (2006). Articles>Documentation>Risk Communication


Collaborative Invention Among Experts in an Interdisciplinary Context: The Creation of Written Discourse for Countermeasures to Biological and Chemical Threats   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

Programs in technical and scientific communication educate students from multiple disciplines. As we teach these students from various fields, we often assume they will write to others who are members of the same field. However, professionals commonly communicate across disciplinary boundaries and collaborate with those who do not necessarily belong to their field. We should rethink our approaches in teaching scientific and technical communication to consider how different peoplefrom different areas of expertise engage one another in a communication situation. Based on the understanding that different disciplinary cultures and languages alter contexts for communication, astudy examining how experts from science, engineering, mathematics, and architecture come together as a single group and collaboratively invent discourse can contribute to new knowledge to inform curriculum development.

Gooch, John C. CPTSC Proceedings (2001). Articles>Risk Communication>Collaboration


Competing Conceptions of Risk

Risk issues are unarguably contentious. People evaluate risks in incompatible ways and propose conflicting proposals for mitigating or litigating risk issues. The sources of contention are multiple. Sometimes people differ because they have different information; sometimes they differ because they have incompatible interests. This paper addresses one of the more philosophical and systemic bases for differing opinions and approaches: The possibility that people have fundamentally or substantially different conceptions of risk. The philosophical basis for contention over risk is most evident in the scholarly and scientific literature. Experts who study risk or risk issues are more likely to develop well-defined, internally consistent conceptions of risk than members of the lay public. If distinct philosophical and linguistic presumptions underlie competing conceptions of risk, it should be possible to formulate the contentiousness over alternatives in terms of a principled philosophical debate, with implications for risk analysis, risk evaluation and risk communication.

Thompson, Paul B. and Wesley Dean. Franklin Pierce Law Center (1996). Articles>Risk Communication>Rhetoric


Consumer Attitudes and the Governance of Food Safety   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This paper reports the analysis of a recent study of public perception of food safety governance in Spain, using genetically modified (GM) foods as an indicator. The data make clear that Spanish food consumers are aware of their rights and role in the marketplace. They are critical of current regulatory decision making, which they perceive to be unduly influenced by certain social actors, such as industry. In contrast, consumers demand decisions to be based primarily on scientific opinion, as well as consumer preferences. They want authorities to facilitate informed purchasing decisions, and favor labeling of GM foods mostly on the grounds of their right to know. However, consumers' actual level of knowledge with respect to food technology and food safety remains low. There are several ambivalences as to the real impact of these attitudes on actual consumer behavior (specifically when it comes to organizing themselves or searching out background information).

Todt, Oliver, Emilio Muñoz, Marta González, Gloria Ponce and Betty Estévez. Public Understanding of Science (2009). Articles>Scientific Communication>Biomedical>Risk Communication


Corporate Risk Reporting: A Content Analysis of Narrative Risk Disclosures in Prospectuses   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This study examines whether companies report risk-relevant information to prospective investors. While corporate risk communication is important for the well-functioning of capital markets, our current understanding of risk reporting practices is limited. The sample consists of Dutch companies raising capital on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in the late 1990s. In this setting, companies had much discretion in writing the risk section of the prospectus. After a detailed content analysis of the risk sections, the author demonstrates that a measure of risk extracted from these texts successfully predicts the volatility of companies' future stock prices, the sensitivity of future stock prices to market-wide fluctuations, as well as severe declines in future stock prices. Overall, these results support the view that prospectuses of Dutch companies provide adequate information about material investment risks.

Deumes, Rogier. JBC (2008). Articles>Business Communication>Financial>Risk Communication


Crafting a Crisis Communication Plan

In the wake of the tragic Virginia Tech shootings, it is time to ask a few serious and potentially life-saving questions about crisis communication and the plans that either exist, or don't exist, where we work.

Braud, Gerard. Communication World Bulletin (2007). Articles>Business Communication>Risk Communication>Crisis Communication


Crisis Management—Don’t Forget the People

In the past, business continuity and crisis management focused on tangible assets, especially post-crisis recovery of systems and data and reestablishment of facilities and services. This all changed in the aftermath of 9/11, when it became obvious that the human factor was as critical as the technology and the buildings. Watching the suffering of the people affected by the Madrid bombings has reinforced the need to ensure your contingency plans address the people involved.

Perl, David. Communication World Bulletin (2004). Articles>Business Communication>Risk Communication>Crisis Communication


Deciding the Future: Balancing Risks, Costs, and Benefits Fairly Across Generations   (PDF)

Explanations are presented of four principles for intergenerational decision-making and initial guidelines for application: trustee principle, sustainability principle, chain of obligation principle, and precautionary principle. The principles need to be used as a set and include certain actions and public discussions under specific circumstances. Some examples are: comprehensive analysis of possible risks and beneficial or damaging consequences of actions, public discussion of the results of these analyses with those who may be significantly affected before decisions are made, and continuous examination of actions or decisions taken by previous generations to evaluate their continued validity and making adjustments if previous decisions are no longer valid.

U.S. Department of Energy (1997). Articles>Risk Communication>Assessment


Decision Analysis and Risk Management: Two Sides of the Same Coin   (members only)

Every decision involves an analysis of possible future events (costs, outcomes, markets, etc.) and selection of a choice among competing alternatives. Making a decision is making a selection. This white paper will provide you with an outline of how to judge the quality of decisions by exploring how effectively the risks associated with various options have been analyzed.

Egan, Brian Denis. Global Knowledge (2006). Articles>Management>Risk Communication>Business Communication


Designing Alarms and Alerts

Is your design resistant to failure? If a worst case occurs, can the user recover and regain trust in your solution? This article explores the case of warnings, alerts and alarms, and provides an introduction to the important factors in gaining user attention to failures or critical events – and how to deal with them. As designers, we all would like to focus on the “happy trail” through our system; but as many users will tell you, annoyances and obstacles to a pleasurable user experience is how a system handles errors and important events out of the ordinary.

Michelsen, Mikkel. Johnny Holland (2010). Articles>User Interface>Risk Communication>Technical Illustration


The Desirability Paradox in the Effects of Media Literacy Training   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This study examines a paradox in findings regarding the effects of media literacy training on adolescents' decision making about tobacco use. Recent experiments have found that media literacy training successfully reduced participants' beliefs associated with risky behavior, whereas at the same time, their positive affect toward individuals portrayed in advertising increased. Study results confirm the hypothesis that media literacy training changes the way individuals think about the desirability of portrayals in the media. Although desirability usually represents individuals' affect toward portrayals, reports gathered after media literacy training also appear to reflect participants' increased awareness of the efforts made by advertisers to produce attractive portrayals designed to sell products and services. This awareness reduces or eliminates the impact that positive affect otherwise would have on decision making. Because this analysis suggests that individuals may respond to survey questions differently depending on their level of skill or involvement, the results raise important issues regarding issues of reliability and validity that may extend well beyond tests of this theoretical model or particular evaluation.

Austin, Erica Weintraub, Bruce E. Pinkleton and Ruth Patterson Funabiki. Communication Research (2007). Articles>Education>Scientific Communication>Risk Communication


Development of an Automotive Icon for Indication of Significant Tire Underinflation   (PDF)

In the TREAD Act of November 1, 2000, Congress required the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop a rule requiring all new light vehicles to be equipped with a warning system to indicate to the driver when a tire is significantly underinflated. Research was conducted to assess the ability of two existing ISO symbols and 13 proposed alternative symbols to communicate the message of tire underinflation. An existing dashboard icon representing an engine was included as a baseline. A comprehension test was conducted in which each of 120 subjects was asked to report the meaning of one tire pressure icon and the engine icon. Results showed 25 and 37.5% comprehension for the ISO tire icons. All of the 13 alternative icons had better comprehension: 6 of 13 had 100%; 2 of 13 had 87.5% comprehension. The type of wheel pictured in tire image based icons was found to affect comprehension. Results suggest that alternatives to the ISO icons should be considered for use in alerting drivers to tire inflation problems.

Mazzae, Elizabeth N. and Thomas A. Ranney. U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2001). Articles>Documentation>Traveler Information>Risk Communication


Effective Risk Communication Starts with Solid Research

The terms risk communication, crisis communication and risk management are often used interchangeably. Crisis communication we understand to mean communicating once the crisis has hit. Risk management entails ensuring as far as possible that risks do not become a reality. Risk communication is part of risk management—informing responsibly on the extent of risk.

Macleod, Sandra. Communication World Bulletin (2006). Articles>Risk Communication>Research>Crisis Communication


The Engineer as Rational Man: The Problem of Imminent Danger in a Non-Rational Environment   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Mine safety instruction manuals and training guides reflect an engineering perspective based on the concept of a Rational Man, a perspective which obsstructs effective risk management.

Sauer, Beverly A. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication (1992). Articles>Documentation>Risk Communication>Rhetoric


Enterprise Agility - Is Risk Management   (PDF)

Plain and simple, the value proposition for enterprise agility is rooted firmly in risk management. The purpose of agility is to maintain both reactive and proactive response options in the face of uncertainty.

Dove, Rick. Paradigm Shift International (2005). Articles>Knowledge Management>Risk Communication


Ethics and Accountability in the New Media Environment

In May, I had the pleasure of participating in the IABC Newfoundland & Labrador 20/20 Visionary Communications conference. Jo-Anne Polak of Hill & Knowlton, while presenting her thoughts about contemporary crisis communication, made a comment that I haven’t stopped thinking about since her presentation. Jo-Anne pointed out that after September 11th, journalists have had to become more competitive and aggressive because media sources have exploded in number, and technology has provided immediate electronic delivery.

Hattori, Todd. Communication World Bulletin (2006). Articles>Business Communication>Risk Communication>Multimedia


Eureka! The Relationship of Good Science Writing to Risk Communication   (PDF)

A look at the importance of science writing in helping the public to understand issues that affect our daily lives so that we can make informed decisions concerning risk.

Holland, Anton. Writer's Block (2005). Articles>Scientific Communication>Risk Communication



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