Aging-specific data/graphs/table to support your message
Aging-related photos and images to strengthen your communications
Narratives that can help illustrate your research
Tools and techniques for creating and adapting your message
Tools and techniques on disseminating your message via the media
Quotations to help strengthen your communications
A collection of tools & techniques available on this site
your communications work and resources here.
  Follow Us
  Find The John A. Hartford Foundation on Facebook   Follow The John A. Hartford Foundation on Twitter  
  Health Agenda Blog logo

Developing a clear message involves taking your complex research and pulling out the key points that you want people to know. Imagine you’re talking to your non-scientist next door neighbor about your work—how can you describe it in a brief statement that is easy to understand? Why is your work important? What do you want people to do with the information?

Important evidence to collect includes data, stories, and a call to action. You also want to know who your audience is and have the ability to adapt your message to a variety of audiences when necessary.

Develop Your Message
Adapt Your Message
Apply Your Message
Message Frameworks
Additional Resources

Develop Your Message

A message is a statement or set of statements that describes your work and why it is important. It should be written in clear, concise language that is easily understood by a wide range of people. Here, we provide a few tips on creating effective messages for your research.

  • What is the benefit? You have committed your professional life to this work, but the rest of us have not. You have to create a context for your research that encourages people to care. How many people are affected by the disease you are studying? What is the cost to society? What is the pay-off for your hard work?
  • Why is it important to you? Is there a personal reason why this matters? Describing this connection is often a good way to connect to an audience.
  • Translate from scientific jargon to concrete, common language. Even in scientific audiences, colleagues are relieved to hear presentations or see posters that are presented clearly. And given the interdisciplinary focus of much of today’s research, “generalist” language will enable others outside your area of expertise to engage your work more effectively.
  • Use metaphors and symbolic language to connect complex scientific concepts to commonly known images and processes. Is the neoplasm two centimeters wide or is the cancer the size of a dime?
  • It is not enough to simply describe what you are doing. Often (indeed, almost always in research), the really exciting stuff is up ahead. What’s next? What do we hope to see from your research or from others in the coming months or years? Is there a call to action? If possible, describe what people in the audience can do to push this work ahead.
  • Marshall a range of evidence. In a scientific presentation, you will need a clear, data-driven description of your research to back up your findings. But for non-scientific groups (and even for scientists to some extent), don’t forget to tell stories or provide anecdotes that support the case for why your work is important and how it is effective.

One tool that can help you organize you message is this worksheet, developed by Valerie Denney of Valerie Denney Communications. It is a simple but powerful tool that can help you develop or fine-tune your messages. Once you’ve created a message, if you’d like us to review it, please email John Beilenson at

Hartford Grantees
Message Development Worksheet

My target audience is:



The One Thing this audience needs to know is:

The reason this is important to this audience is:

What this audience should do is:

It is important (urgent) for this audience to act now because:

© 2005 Valerie Denney

Adapt Your Message

Framing Public Issues Toolkit and the Five-Minute Refresher Course in Framing, both from the Frameworks Institute, are excellent resources on framing concepts and messaging.

The FrameWorks Institute also hosts an online workshop titled Changing the Conversation about Social Problems: A Beginner's Guide to Strategic Frame Analysis. This multimedia eWorkshop provides a general introduction to FrameWorks' evidence-based approach to communicating for social change. Take the lessons from this eWorkshop at your own pace and revisit it as often as you like.

Apply Your Message

Message-Driven Posters provides some helpful tips on how to use a clear sense of message to develop a more effective poster.

Managing the Conversation offers tips and techniques to help you get through your next interview with style and substance.

Message Frameworks

A message framework is a set of related messages that together provide the rationale for and description of a program or body of research.

This framework can be used to organize any number of communications activities. For example, the framework's argument can be reflected in the structure of a general speech or in boilerplate descriptive information.

Clearly, the messages and sub-messages developed for a general message framework will not be sufficient for every communications task one faces.  Rather, a message framework is meant to be a handy resource to help you (and perhaps your staff) be more efficient and to provide a foundation from which to work.  A framework is most powerful when everyone in an organization or group understands and uses it.  When everyone is “singing from the same sheet,” the resulting consistency (and repetition) amplifies the impact of an organization’s communications.

To support a broader range of communications, an organization may also develop additional messages that are important to specific audiences.

The message framework can also be used to manage free-flowing conversations with key audiences and the media. It can help one respond positively to negative questions. When staff is confronted with media or other interviews, it can help them stay on message.

While there is not necessarily a specific format for a message framework, there are a few key components that should be included:
  1. Context: Consider the context or rationale for your project/research, and put it into a few easy-to-understand sentences.
  2. Project Description: Briefly describe your project/research. Again, in a few sentences.
  3. Messages: Your main messages should be written clearly and concisely.
  4. Evidence: These are the sub-messages that support your main messages. Evidence can also include key data points or stories.

Here, we provide the Hartford Foundation’s message framework as an example. In it you’ll see components outlined above: context, program description, messages, and evidence.

In addition to the narrative and bullet-style message framework, you can also create a sheet that summarizes your messages and sub-messages and presents them in a visual format, which may be more helpful in some situations, such as during a phone interview with a reporter. The illustration below shows the main message for the Hospital at Home program surrounded by its sub-messages. The point here is that each of the messages in the corners provides a way to pivot back to your central message and vice versa.

Hospital at Home

Additional sample message frameworks:


Additional Resources

"Clear, Simple, Concise Messages" is a chapter from NOW HEAR THIS, a report produced by Fenton Communications. It includes excellent examples of messaging that works.

Message Modules – Use Your Elevator Pitch as the Building Block for Stronger Content from nonprofit communications expert Nancy Schwartz.

Find examples of Hartford Foundation programs with key messages and cohesive message frameworks.
Share your message with us for review and feedback.

FREE counter and Web statistics from