Publication Date
Publication Date: 
October 23, 2013

Based on research commissioned by the Canadian Council on Social Determinants of Health (CCSDH), these guidelines for common messaging examine factors that influence audience receptivity to social determinants of health (SDH) messages, the ingredients of effective messages, and considerations for tailoring them for priority audiences. This tool explains that our health is influenced by factors such as the work we do, our level of education, our income, where we live, the quality of our experiences when we are children, and the physical environment that surrounds us. Together, these factors are referred to as SDH. In Canada, many individuals and organisations are working to raise knowledge and awareness about how SDH factors - not just the individual decisions we make about smoking or diet and physical activity - influence health. This tool was developed to help guide them in their communication efforts.

Findings emphasise that effective messaging requires clear and plain language rather than abstract phrases that may not be widely understood and may not engage audiences. The abstract concepts that underlie SDH must be made tangible with concrete analogies or examples and the judicious use of facts. Messages that evoke images or emotion tend to be more memorable, as are messages shared through stories to which audiences can relate.

These guidelines stress that understanding the audience is key to effective messaging. This involves assessing the values or metaphors that inform the way in which people perceive health and its social determinants. A message that is consistent with personal values tends to be more convincing than a message that does not align with one's worldview. Preparing the audience by using a fact, image, or story that they already believe can also help make messages more compelling. The way in which a message is conveyed should be appropriate for both the audience and the context, such as a short provocative statement, a story, or a powerful image.

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Understanding the Context for SDH Messaging
    • Views about health and social determinants of health
    • Values and metaphors
    • Implications for SDH messaging
  • Crafting SDH Messages
    • Expressing concepts
    • Using facts
    • Selecting words
    • Best practices for communicators
  • Conveying SDH Messages
    • Selecting the right tool
    • Priming the audience
    • Audience segments
  • Key SDH Messaging Guidelines
  • Conclusion
  • References
Number of Pages: 



National Collaborating Centre for Determinants of Health (NCCDH) website, July 17 2017; and email from James McDonald to The Communication Initiative on July 28 2017. Image credit: CCSDH