Communication Studies 394-0: Undergraduate Research Seminar

Section 20: Persuasion in Health Contexts

Fall 2015

3:00-5:50 Mondays, 1-483 Frances Searle




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

                        mailbox: 2-118 Frances Searle





Course website:



General description: This course is one section of the department’s junior writing seminar. This section provides a general introduction to theory and research concerning health-related persuasion, especially in the context of health communication campaigns. The course covers leading theoretical frameworks that have guided health persuasion research and practice (e.g., the transtheoretical model) and research concerning health communication campaigns (campaign planning, execution, and evaluation). Students will complete a substantial research paper and contribute to class discussion of readings.



Prerequisite: Although it is not a formal prerequisite, some prior exposure to general persuasion theory and research (as is afforded by Communication Studies 205) will be essential.



Readings: Class readings will come from articles available online. Reading assignments will provide the reference for each article; students will be responsible for obtaining the article online. Both the usual NU library system ( and the NU Galter Health Sciences library system ( are likely to be used.



Class procedure: For nearly every class meeting some reading will have been assigned. Class time will be a combination of Socratic discussion (in which individual students are asked questions about the reading, without their having volunteered and without notice being given) and open discussion (of the more familiar sort), with occasional brief structured lecture-like presentations. Students who are not prepared to answer questions about that day’s readings should not attend class.



Basis of grading: One's course grade is based on two elements: in-class performance (45%) and the final paper (55%).

            Concerning in-class performance (45%): This course has no quizzes, exams, problem sets, or the like. One’s understanding of course material—the readings—is assessed through in-class performance. Correspondingly, the basis of evaluation of in-class participation is the degree to which one displays a thorough and thoughtful understanding of the course material. In a sense, each class meeting provides an opportunity for something like an oral examination over that week’s material, and thus class time is an occasion to display grasp of the readings (the course content). Mid-quarter feedback (probably during the week of 12 October) will be provided. [The oral presentation associated with the final paper is not part of the in-class performance assessment.]

            Concerning the final paper (55%): The final paper is a substantial research report, at least 15 double-spaced pages (exclusive of references and suchlike). An initial paper proposal is due at class on Monday 5 October; individual conferences about the proposal will be scheduled subsequently (probably 8-9 October). A draft of the paper is due on Monday 26 October. Comments on the draft will be available not later than Monday 2 November; individual meetings about the draft will be scheduled when comments are available. The final paper is due at class on Monday 30 November, with a brief oral presentation to be made.

            Each of these two graded elements will receive a letter grade, with the usual numerical equivalents (that is, A = 4.0, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, and so forth). To convert the (weighted) 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



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:

            Any student requesting accommodations related to a disability or other condition is required to register with AccessibleNU (; 847-467-5530) and provide professors with an accommodation notification from AccessibleNU, preferably within the first two weeks of class. All information will remain confidential.  For details:




Tentative course schedule:


M 21 September: introduction and background

M 28 September: additions to RAT: past behavior, anticipated emotions, self-identity

            pre-proposal meeting if desired this week

M 5 October: stage models

            paper proposal due

            (Th-F 8-9 October: individual meetings about the proposal)

M 12 October: risk appraisal, perceptions, interventions

M 19 October: health intervention/campaign planning

M 26 October: draft paper due (no reading assigned, no class meeting)

M 2 November: health intervention/campaign formats and vehicles

            (individual meetings about the draft this week)

M 9 November: health intervention/campaign execution and effects

M 16 November: no class meeting (individual meetings as desired)

M 23 November: no class meeting

M 30 November: final paper due, oral presentations



Tentative general course outline:


1.  Background: Health-related applications of general persuasion theory and research

1.1  General background concerning persuasion

1.2  Health-related applications of some persuasion-relevant theories

1.3  Health-related research involving classic persuasion variables


2. Potential additions to reasoned action theory

2.1  Past behavior

2.2  Anticipated emotions

2.3  Self-identity


3.  Some health-focused models of behavior

3.1  Stage models of behavioral change

3.2  Protection motivation theory and extended parallel process model


4. Risk perception and risk communication

4.1  Risk appraisal/perception

4.2  The relationship of risk perception and behavior

4.3  Interventions to alter risk perceptions

4.4  Risk communication: Some loose ends


5.  Health communication interventions/campaigns

5.1  Health communication interventions/campaigns: general overview

5.2  Intervention/campaign planning: formative research, audience segmentation, etc.

5.3  Intervention/campaign formats and vehicles

5.4  Intervention/campaign execution and effects



Daniel J. O'Keefe home page
Daniel J. O'Keefe email