Communication Studies 205-0
Theories of Persuasion
Fall 2015


Professor:        Daniel O’Keefe

                        Office: 1-148 Frances Searle

                        Office hours: 11-12 MW, 2:00-4:00 W, & by appointment

                        Office phone: 847.491.3581


                        Homepage: or



Assistants:       Fashina Aladé

                        Office: 2-147 Frances Searle 

                        Office hours: by appt.



                        Silvia Lovato

                        Office: 2-147 Frances Searle 

                        Office hours: by appt.



Course site: or via

Text (supplementary):  D. O’Keefe, Persuasion: Theory and research (3rd ed., paperback, Sage) (ISBN  978-1-4522-7667-0) (one copy available at the Library Reserve Room)

Brief course description and tentative outline:  This course provides a general introduction to the social-scientific study of persuasive communication. The course focuses on alternative theoretical accounts of the processes underlying persuasion and on research findings concerning the effects of various factors on persuasive effectiveness.


      I.  Introduction

     II.  Theoretical approaches

          A.  Social judgment theory

          B.  Belief-based models

          C.  Functional approaches

          D.  Reasoned action theory

          E.  Elaboration likelihood model

          F.  Consistency theories

    III.  Factors influencing persuasive effectiveness

          A.  Source factors

          B.  Message factors

          C.  Receiver factors

   IV.  Persuasive campaigns

Graded assignments:


One’s course grade is based on two hourly examinations and a final examination. The examinations cover material presented in lecture and discussion sections. The hourly exams are multiple-choice exams; the first counts for 30% of the course grade, the second for 35%. The final exam is a take-home essay exam; the final exam counts for 35% of the course grade.


It is assumed that examinations will be completed when required. No make-up examinations will be administered, except in cases of documented medical or family emergency. When such problems are encountered, notify Professor O’Keefe at the earliest possible time; appropriate documentation will be needed. Without an acceptable excuse, a missed examination will receive a failing grade (F).



Course grading:

One's course grade will be determined by the weighted average of the grades on the individual assignments. Each assignment will receive a letter grade, with the usual numerical equivalents (that is, A = 4.0, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, and so forth).


So, for example, a student who received an A- on the first exam, a B on the second exam, and an A on the final exam would have a course average of 3.56.


                        (3.7 x .30) + (3.0 x .35) + (4.0 x .35) = 3.56


To convert the course average into a course grade, the following scale will apply:


                                                course average             course grade

                                                 3.850 and up              A

                                                 3.500 and up              A-

                                                 3.150 and up              B+

                                                 2.850 and up              B

                                                 2.500 and up              B-

                                                 2.150 and up              C+

                                                 1.850 and up              C

                                                 1.350 and up              C-

                                                 0.500 and up              D

                                                 below 0.500               F


So a student with a course average of 3.56 would receive a course grade of A-.


However, before course grades are submitted, the raw scores on the hourly exams are reviewed. If the circumstance is such that having answered correctly just one additional question on just one hourly exam would have yielded a higher course grade, then the higher course grade is given.

Research participation requirement:


To receive credit in CS 205, one must complete the Communication Studies research participation requirement. Materials available on the first day of class provide details; that information is also available through the CS 205 course website (look for information about the “research participation requirement”). The research participation homepage is For additional information, make contact with the research coordinator for Communication Studies, Esther Liu (



Academic dishonesty:


Don't do it. (If uncertain about what constitutes a violation of Northwestern University's standards of academic integrity, consult the University web site, e.g., pp. 21-23 of:


Bad things will happen if you do. (These can include a failing grade on the assignment—and worse. Again, see the University web site. For details on School of Communication procedures: .)




Students with disabilities:


Students with disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion. For more information:



Some tentative dates of interest: 

Hourly exam #1:  Wednesday 21 October

Hourly exam #2:  Monday 23 November

Take-home final available at lecture:  Monday 30 November

Take-home final available online:  Monday 30 November by 5:00 p.m.

Take-home final due: not later than noon Monday 7 December

Tentative schedule:


Week of 21 September

            topic: concept of persuasion, attitude measurement, assessing persuasion

            supplementary reading: pp. 1-18

Week of 28 September

            topic: social judgment theory

            supplementary reading: pp. 19-34

Week of 5 October

            topic: belief-based models, functional approaches

            supplementary reading: pp. 56-75 (belief-based); pp. 35-55 (functional)

Week of 12 October

            topic: reasoned action theory, elaboration likelihood model

            supplementary reading: pp. 98-131 (RAT); pp. 148-175 (ELM)

Week of 19 October

            topic: elaboration likelihood model

            supplementary reading: pp. 148-175

            Wednesday 21 October: hourly exam #1

            discussion sections do meet as usual Friday 23 October

Week of 26 October

            topic: consistency theories

            supplementary reading: pp. 76-97

Week of 2 November

            topic: source factors

            supplementary reading: pp. 188-213

Week of 9 November

            topic: message factors

            supplementary reading: pp. 214-251

Week of 16 November

            topic: receiver factors, campaigns

            supplementary reading: pp. 252-267

Week of 23 November

            Monday 23 November: hourly exam #2

            Wednesday 25 November: no class meeting

Week of 30 November

            Monday 30 November: take-home final available at lecture (and online by 5:00 p.m.)

            Wednesday 2 December: no class meeting

            Friday 4 December: no class meeting

Week of 7 December:

            Monday 7 December: final exam due not later than noon