Craft better content with 3 simple communication models


Sabina Idler

April 23, 2011

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What do you know about communication? Let’s take a closer look at this topic and find out how communication models can be helpful when it comes to web content. Communication models help you understand the basic rules of communication. Based on this understanding you can analyze different forms of communication and improve your content. We will briefly introduce three interesting communication models and try to put them in line with good web content.

Figure 1 - One of the three communicational models

The Transmission Model

In the mid twentieth century Shannon and Weaver came up with a very basic model of communication, the Transmission model. This model reduces communication to a linear one-way process, in which a sender transmits information to a receiver. Only external interfering factors can alter the message. Read more about the idea behind this model at

Figure 2 - Transmission Model by Shannon and Weaver

The Encoding-Decoding Model

The Encoding-decoding Model by Stuart Hall explaines a very interesting aspect of communication. Both encoding and decoding a message are based on the cognitive, social, and technological context of either the sender or the receiver. So for example the sender encodes a message in a way that seems perfectly logical to him. The receiver then might decode the message based on his knowledge and social experiences and end up with a completely different meaning.

Figure 3 - Encoding-decoding Model by Hall

The Four-Sides Model

With his Four-sides Model of communication, Schulz von Thun identified communication as a multi layered process. His model gives a very visual overview of four different levels of communication. First there is the content layer which presents the facts of a message. Secondly there is the relationship layer which is more personal and basically indicates what the sender thinks of the receiver. Thirdly, there is the self revealing layer which reveals information about who the sender is. Last but not least, the appeal layer indicates what the sender wants the receiver to do. You find more detailed information about this model at

Figure 4 - Four-sides Model by von Thun

Direct vs. Indirect

Face-to-Face Communication

When we communicate with someone in person, we often make use of all four layers of communication introduced by Hall. We can simply say something, we can say something ‘between the lines’, and we can even say something by not saying it. The words we chose make up only part of what we communicate. The rest of the message is defined by how we say something, e.g. the tone of our voice or facial expressions.

Semi-Direct Communication

When we communicate with someone over the phone, we already have less influence on our message because we cannot use our facial expression. When we chat with someone or send an email, we even lose another mean of expression, our voice. However, with semi-direct communication channels, our correspondent still has the option to reply and double check our message.

Communicating web content

Now if we look at a website, certainly the most common way to communicate a message is through words. Everyone who can read and who speaks our language will be able to understand our message, right? Unfortunately that is not quite how simple it is. If we take a look again at the communication models discussed above, we see that only the combination of several aspects leads to successful communication. In order to send the message we want to send using written words, we must to do all of the following: Address and reach our audience, make sure our audience interprets our message the way we want them to and define which layers of communication we want to include.

Below you will find a list with questions that might be helpful to keep in mind when creating content for your website.

  • Who are your customers?

  • How would your customers like to be addressed?

  • What do your customers know about your product?

  • What language do your customers speak?

  • What information are your customers looking for?

  • What do you want to communicate about yourself?

  • What do you want to reveal of yourself?

  • What do you think of your customers? Do you want them to know that?

  • What do you want your customers to do?


Communicating a message – be it factual information, inspirations, or a company’s image – is the central aspect of most websites. A common way to present messages on a website is through written words. Unfortunately, written language has several limitations such as the absence of facial expressions or the tone of voice. Due to these limitations, it is important to look twice at the words we use on our website to communicate our message.

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