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Public Health Communication during the times of COVID-19

Unit(s) of assessment: Communication, Cultural and Media Studies, Library and Information Management

Research theme: Safety and Security of Citizens and Society

School: School of Arts and Humanities


This academic research project is part of the Centre for the Study of Inequality, Culture and Difference.

The on-going COVID-19 pandemic has been a truly historical event and presents a unique opportunity to investigate how governments around the world have communicated with their citizens in order to keep them updated about the developing pandemic, convince them to adapt their behaviour in response to the growing health crisis, all with the aim of keeping the public safe. Within the UK, media discourse at the time pointed to mixed messaging in the UK government’s communication strategy during the lock-down periods in 2020 and 2021.

This project aims to investigate public health communication strategies with an aim to investigate clear and unclear approaches to information dissemination and possible affects on public adherence to changing policy, laws and restrictions.  It aims to do so through close grammatical and discourse analysis of governmental briefings and speeches directed at the public. This project has begun by focussing on the UK government’s coronavirus press briefings during the first wave of the pandemic, but aims to expand this research out to compare the UK government with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (who generally were judged by the media to have a better quality of communication) and then look globally to compare similar texts in countries which had overall lower comparative cases of COVID-19.

Addressing the Challenge

Clarity and precision of communication during times of public health crises is of utmost importance. This project takes a linguistic perspective on aspects of communication that were effective and where lessons can be learnt for the future.


This work is being undertaken by Dr Jamie Williams and Dr David Wright.

Making a Difference

The current pandemic has highlighted the need for effective, clear, and unambiguous messaging from those in public office. This project aims to improve our understanding of good practice in times of public health crisis. Our research can help shape public perceptions of official communications, as well as help understand how language and rhetoric is exploited in public discourse.