Communication Studies 395-0: Topics in Communication Studies
Section 22: Advanced Theories of Persuasion
Spring 2007


Professor  Dan O'Keefe

                   Office: 1-148 Frances Searle

                   Office hours: 3:00-4:30 M and by appointment

                   Office phone: 847.491.3581


                   Homepage: or

Course website: or via



Brief course description:  This course covers various advanced topics in the social-scientific study of persuasion theory and research. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the persuasion unimodel, the transtheoretical (stages of change) model, elaborations and applications of the theory of planned behavior, narrative formats for persuasion (including entertainment-education), reactance, argument quality, persuasion in health contexts, and methodological issues in persuasion effects research.


This course meets concurrently with section 23 of Communication Studies 525 (Seminar: Problems in Communication Studies); students enrolled in 395 and 525 will have  slightly different paper assignments, but otherwise the courses are identical.



Prerequisite: Background equivalent to Communication Studies 205 (Theories of Persuasion) and Communication Studies 201 (Research Methods in Communication) is required. Until the first day of class, enrollment is limited to those who have completed both classes; others may have their names added to a waiting list (details are here). A prerequisite-check examination is administered the second day of class (Wednesday 28 March). A brief description of the exam appears below; more extensive information is available here.


Text (supplementary):  D. O'Keefe, Persuasion: Theory and research (2nd ed., paperback, Sage) (ISBN 0-7619-2539-2)



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. Each meeting’s reading assignment is posted here.



Class procedure: For each 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 five elements: a prerequisite-check examination (worth 10% of the course grade), two hourly examinations (20% each), a paper (30%), and in-class performance (20%). Brief descriptions of each follow; a more extensive description of the paper assignment will be available when the assignment is made.


The prerequisite-check examination is an in-class closed-book essay exam, administered the second day of class (Wednesday 28 March). A pool of possible questions is provided in advance of the exam; the exam questions are drawn from that pool (i.e., the exam consists of a subset of those questions). The exam is blind-scored and is graded in a binary way, as either a pass (credited as an A, 4.0) or a fail (credited as an F, 0.0). Results of the prerequisite-check exam are posted on Blackboard not later than 5:00 p.m. Thursday 29 March. More information about the exam is available here.


The two hourly examinations are in-class closed-book exams. Each is likely to have essay, short-answer, and (perhaps some) multiple-choice questions.


The paper (for students enrolled in 395) addresses a specified research question based on material from at least three relevant research reports. The main task is to summarize and integrate the research reports. The specific topic must be approved in advance.


In-class performance is assessed with respect both to the quality and the quantity of one’s contributions. Mid-quarter feedback (probably during the week of 30 April) will be provided. Given the Socratic character of the discussion, each class meeting amounts to a (potential) oral examination.


It is assumed that examinations and assignments will be completed as scheduled. No make-up examinations will be administered nor late assignments accepted, except in cases of documented medical or family emergency. When such problems are encountered, notify me at the earliest possible time; appropriate documentation will be needed. Without an acceptable excuse, a missed examination or assignment 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 prerequisite-check exam, a B- on the first hourly exam, a B on the second hourly exam, a B+ on the paper, and an A- for class participation would have a course average of 3.27.


(4.0 x .10) + (2.7 x .20) + (3.0 x .20) + (3.3 x .30) + (3.7 x .20)  =  3.27


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


                                                course average             course grade

                                                 3.85 and up                 A

                                                 3.5 and up                   A-

                                                 3.15 and up                 B+

                                                 2.85 and up                 B

                                                 2.5 and up                   B-

                                                 2.15 and up                 C+

                                                 1.85 and up                 C

                                                 1.35 and up                 C-

                                                 0.5 and up                   D

                                                 below 0.5                    F


So a student with a course average of 3.27 would receive a course grade of B+.



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., pages 31-32 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:  In accordance with Northwestern University policy and equal access laws, I'm happy to discuss appropriate academic accommodations required by students with disabilities. Requests for academic accommodations need to be made during the first week of the quarter (except in unusual circumstances) so that timely arrangements can be made. Students are encouraged to register with Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) for disability verification and for determination of reasonable academic accommodations. For more information:



Some VERY TENTATIVE dates of interest: 

            Prerequisite-check exam:  Wednesday 28 March

            Prerequisite-check results posted on Blackboard by 5:00 p.m. Thursday 29 March

            Hourly exam #1:  Wednesday 25 April

            Mid-quarter feedback about in-class performance: during the week of 30 April

            Term paper assigned: Wednesday 2 May

            Hourly exam #2:  Monday 21 May

            Paper due: not later than noon Wednesday 30 May

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