Communication Studies 394-0: Undergraduate Research Seminar

Section 20: Persuasion in Health Contexts

Spring 2017




            The final paper for this course is a substantial research report, likely to be at least 15 double-spaced pages (exclusive of references and suchlike). Information about suitable topics appears below.

            A paper proposal is due at class on Monday 10 April (details below); individual proposal conferences will be scheduled subsequently (12-14 April).

            A paper draft is due by 5:00 p.m. on Monday 1 May (details below). Comments on the draft will be available not later than Monday 8 May; individual meetings about the draft will be scheduled when comments are available.

             The final paper is due at class on Monday 22 May (details below).



Suitable topics:

            Obviously enough, the paper has to address some aspect of persuasion in health contexts. But many different sorts of papers might potentially be suitable. As a way of suggesting some of the possible varieties of potentially suitable topics, here are some abstract descriptions of possible topics (with accompanying specific examples):


--How can people be persuaded about health-related behavior X? That is, what does existing research suggest about effective persuasion on that subject? For example, how can people be persuaded to exercise regularly? to get flu shots? to wear sunscreen? to undergo cancer screenings (generally, or for specific cancers—skin exams, mammography, testicle self-exams, colonoscopies, etc.)? to become organ donors? to become blood donors? How can health risk information be communicated most effectively for a given behavior (smoking, alcohol abuse, sun exposure, diet, etc.)? How effective are health-related warnings on alcohol or tobacco products?


--How effective is X as a means of health-related persuasion? That is, what does existing research suggest about the use of X as a means of persuasion in health contexts? For example, how effective are fear appeals in health-related persuasion (generally or concerning some specific health behavior)? How effective are reminders (or personalized messages or . . .) in health-related persuasion? What are the effects of health-related entertainment content (e.g., smoking depictions in movies) or celebrity news?


--How effective are mass media health campaigns? That is, what does existing research evidence suggest about the effectiveness of mass media health campaigns? For example, how effective have various antismoking campaigns been? How effective have campaigns concerning seatbelt use (or drunk driving, skin cancer prevention, etc.) been?


These examples are all paper topics whose central purpose is to assess the current state of knowledge on the specified question. However, it is easy to imagine course papers that go beyond such a purpose. For example, a paper might propose a research study (discussing its design, hypotheses, expected results) or might report an analysis of the advertisements commonly used to promote a given health behavior. But even such papers will need to be based on some understanding of the current state of relevant research in order to make the paper most useful.



Requirements for the paper proposal:

            Before embarking on one’s final paper, a paper proposal must be approved. Paper proposals are due at class on Monday 10 April; Professor O’Keefe will be available for consultation before proposals are due. What follows is information about the requirements for the proposal.

            As an overview: The paper proposal must contain five elements, namely, a statement of the main claim or question, a rationale (justification) for addressing that claim or question, a preliminary bibliography, a summary of one relevant research report, and a copy of that research report.

            First, the proposal must contain a statement of the specific research question or claim to be addressed in the paper. Note that a general topic (e.g., “blood donation”) is not sufficient; a specific question (“What kinds of persuasive messages are most effective in encouraging blood donation?”) or claim (“Blood donations are more effectively encouraged by messages that emphasize donation’s benefits to society than by messages that emphasize benefits to the donor”) is needed.

            Second, the proposal must contain a rationale for that question/claim. Why is it important or valuable to answer this question (or support this claim)?

            Third, the proposal must contain some evidence—in the form of a preliminary bibliography—that sufficient relevant research information exists to permit an appropriately extensive treatment.

            Fourth, the proposal must contain a summary of one relevant research report; the summary may not exceed one double-spaced page. This summary should be a self-contained description of the research report, such that a reader could glean the most relevant aspects of the report from the summary.

            Fifth, the proposal must be accompanied by a copy of the research report that is summarized.



Requirements for the draft paper:

            A draft of the paper is due by 5:00 p.m. on Monday 1 May. The draft must be submitted in both a digital version (e.g., a Word document, submitted as an email attachment) and in a hard-copy version [delivered to Professor O’Keefe’s office (1-148 Frances Searle) or to his mailbox in the Communication Studies mailroom (2-123 Frances Searle)].

            The draft is not meant to be a complete version of the paper. It’s expected that the draft will be incomplete in some ways—even in some significant ways. For example, large sections of the paper may not yet be written.

            But the draft should be able to give both the larger outline of the paper and some substantial portions of the writing. For example, the draft should have both a clear statement of purpose and an organizational forecast (that is, it should convey some sense of the paper’s outline).

            The farther along the draft is, the more useful will be the commentary on the draft. The draft is the last opportunity to get feedback that improves the paper. (Whatever feedback is received on the final paper will of course come too late to permit making the paper better.)



Requirements for the final paper:

            The final paper is due at class on Monday 22 May. The final paper must be submitted in both a digital version (e.g., a Word document, submitted as an email attachment) and in a hard-copy version (delivered to Professor O’Keefe at class).

            At the class meeting on 22 May, each student will make a brief oral presentation—not more than five minutes—concerning his or her paper. This oral presentation is not graded.




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