Many Gram-negative bacteria use type III secretion systems to secrete virulence factors as well as the structural components of the flagellum. Some bacterial secretion systems use a secretion signal contained in the amino acid sequence of the secreted substrate. However, substrates of type III systems lack a single, defined secretion signal. There is evidence for the existence of three independent secretion signals - the 5' region of the mRNA, the amino terminus of the substrate and the ability of a secretion chaperone to bind the substrate before secretion - that direct substrates for secretion through the type III pathways. One or more of these signals might be used for a given substrate. A recent study of flagellar assembly presented evidence for a role of translation in the type III secretion mechanism. We present a unifying model for type III secretion that can be applied to flagellar assembly, needle assembly and the secretion of virulence factors. The potential role of translation in regulating the timing of substrate secretion is also discussed.