Syllabus for Communication 221
Persuasion Theory and Research

About Me and This Course

My name is Steve Booth-Butterfield and my office is in the NIOSH building (1095 Willowdale Road, M/S 4050, Health Communication Research Branch, phone 285-6090). I won't have formal office hours, but I'm usually available 9-5:30pm M-F so it is easy to get a hold of me.

Persuasion is totally cool and I love teaching it. A large part of my professional identity and performance is based on teaching and researching persuasion, so it is serious business for me. I don't do this for the money or because my mother told me to do it. I do it for the love of the thing itself.

You may already know that I used to be a professor with WVU, but in 1998 I moved to the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) to become the branch chief for the Health Communication Research Branch. I'm an adjunct professor with WVU (which is why I'm teaching this course). The move to NIOSH has been a revelation for me about persuasion. I'm doing considerably more real world application of it and this has given me a new perspective on how to research it and teach it.

Because I care so much about persuasion and teaching it well, I think I have something good to offer you. If you truly want to understand how persuasion works, I can teach it to you. I can give you insight into how and why people do what they do and how you can use communication in everyday life to become an effective influence agent. We can create a good teacher-learner relationship and both benefit from the experience.

Orientation of the Course

I am a social scientist by training, experience, and practice. I am looking for the general principles of human nature and use the scientific method to discover those principles. While the state of the art with social scientific research is still not as well developed as in physics, chemistry, or biology, it is closer to those disciplines than a humanities orientation. And, as we'll discover in this course, much of the knowledge we have about persuasion has been generated through scientific methods and provides great insight into human nature.

Given this orientation, we will take a close look at how the scientific method has been applied to the study of using messages to change people's attitudes. We'll consider a variety of lab and field experiments and learn how to apply this scientific knowledge to practical problems in life. This will be a cool blend of research and application that you should find interesting and useful throughout your life. Really.

Comm 221 and the Web

We have a homepage located at The site has a number of useful and interesting features including Weekly News, the Gradebook, Steve's Primer, Class Notes, and Healthy Influence Papers (just to name a few). Learn how to access this site and use it frequently. You can also feel free to contact me via email from the homepage or at I'll also collect email addresses from you and create a distribution list. I'll send out weekly updates about the course, assignments, and other interesting bits of information.

A Word About Character

Character is destiny.

Character shows in four virtues: Fortitude, prudence, temperance, and justice. A person with good character will persist and endure, chose carefully and thoughtfully, control emotion with reason, operate with equity and fairness. By contrast, a person with poor character will quit easily, behave thoughtlessly, allow mood to conquer intelligence, and act selfishly.

Character is destiny in your life and in this course.

Course Orientation

This is an advanced course. It is based upon the following assumptions:

1. prior work with persuasion and communication concepts 2. knowledge of good writing standards 3. skill in library research 4. knowledge of effective classroom performance 5. knowledge of effective study skills

Special Accommodation

If you have a special learning need that I can accommodate, please contact me.


O'Keefe, D. (1992). Persuasion: Theory and Research.

Author. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 4th ed.

These books are required. You will fail the course if you do not read these books with understanding. The APA Publication Manual is the style sheet you will use for papers in this course (and many other Communication or social science courses).


If you have a university-approved excuse for missing a test, contact me the day you return with the written, approved excuse. You can then make-up a test on the last Saturday of the semester. This policy only applies to tests. All other assignments must be completed on the day they are assigned. Missing one or two sessions due to illness should not harm your grade because of the grading system we are using. However, if you have an extended illness, please contact me to negotiate alternative arrangements.

Evaluation Components

Written Project

You will write a major paper from the "Healthy Influence" perspective that demonstrates persuasion theory applied to a health problem. You will find a detailed description of the paper later in the syllabus.

First Draft (feedback and grade from Steve) Group Draft (feedback from a work group) Final Draft (feedback and grade from Steve) If you are a Communication major, I am designating the Healthy Influence project as a "Portfolio Project." A copy of this project will be kept on file as part of the external review process for evaluating the Department.


You will complete two major tests. Each test will employ an objective-based, essay format. I will give you a study sheet of objectives before each test to focus your study.

Mastery Units

You will complete two Mastery Units over three chapters in the O'Keefe book on the Theory of Reasoned Action and Information Integration, and Social Judgement Theory. To demonstrate your competence in these areas you must pass a 15-20 item quiz within three attempts. I will not lecture over these chapters. Instead you will learn through your own reading and tutorials conducted among yourselves.


During the semester I will take attendance, assign brief writing projects, or assign library searches. Additionally, I will observe your performance for timeliness, preparation, participation, and cooperation. If you attend all sessions, are always prepared, contribute appropriately, and in general perform at a professional level, you will receive up to 100 points. Conformity with these criteria will produce more points, while deviations will necessitate reductions.

Grading System

Tests on Dual Process and CLARCCS, and Theories
100 points - Dual Process and CLARCCS
100 points - Theories

Mastery Units on Theory of Reasoned Action and Information Integration and Social Judgement
50 points - TRA and II
50 points - Social Judgement Theory

Pass on first attempt: 50 points
Pass on second: 45 points
Pass on third: 40 points

Proposal Draft, Group Draft and Final Draft
100 points - first draft
200 points - final draft

Professionalism (attendance, timeliness, cooperation)
100 points

All Together Now
700 total points
644 A (92%)
588 B (84%)
532 C (76%)
476 D (68%)

Written Project Description - Healthy Influence Project

You don't often get to make a difference in the lives of your friends, family, or community and earn course credit at the sametime. This project is an opportunity to make a practical and perhaps life-saving difference and also demonstrate your skill as a student and scholar. This is a cool idea.

The project involves what I call "Healthy Influence." Healthy Influence is the application of persuasion theory and research to a problem in the health context. This assignment is a blend of theory and application. It requires you to demonstrate skill as a persuasion practictioner, library researcher, and technical writer. I have very high expectations for this paper. This course is one of the most advanced majors classes we offer, so it is reasonable to assume that you have a high level of motivation and ability. You will demonstrate that motivation and ability with this project.

Task Analysis

Identify health problem
Choose target(s)
Determine influence strategy and assessment
Explain how persuasion theory supports your plan
Execute the plan
Write report


You will submit three different drafts of this paper during the semester. Each draft will accomplish a different goal and should permit you to demonstrate several skills along the way.

Proposal Draft. The proposal outlines the problem and solution. Properly done, the Proposal is roughly the first half of the Final paper. I will read these proposals with a particular emphasis on your writing skill, quality of research, and the practicality of the proposed plan.

Group Draft. You will submit a "final" version of your paper to a group of your peers for their feedback. You will bring an anonymous (no identifying information) copy of your paper and join a feedback group (4-6 people). You will pass around each other's papers and provide written comments about the paper. The purpose of this activity is to get a lot of different perspectives on how clearly you communicate your project. You will take the feedback from this session and make changes, as needed, in the paper.

Final Draft. The end. The one you turn in for my last evaluation.

The Proposal Draft and Final Draft will be graded, while the Group Draft will not. Please do not assume that I place no value on the Group Draft because it gets no points. In several respects, it might be the most important draft of this paper. It is not graded because I don't want to put that kind of pressure on you. Instead I want you to focus on whether the drafts you read make sense and provide help on improving them.

Outline of Proposal, Group, and Final Draft

Section Headers

The Problem (read and cite 5 scientific sources)
What it is generally
What causes the problem
Who's got the problem
What's the effect (mortality and morbidity)
Why Healthy Influence?
Can persuasion change the problem
How do attitudes affect the problem
Who is the Target
Background information
How did they develop the problem
How long have they had the problem
Why Healthy Influence might work with target(s)
What will You Do (read and cite 3 scientific sources)
Specifically outline your tactics
What theory and research supports your strategy
The Results
Did any change occur
How long has the change lasted
How do the outcomes relate to persuasion theory
The Future
What would you do differently the next time
Would this work on a larger scale (more targets)

Writing the Paper

Use the above sections as headers in your paper. They will organize your thoughts, your writing, and my reading. Focus very specifically on these headers and make sure that you develop them fully. Deviations from this structure are permissible, but they should produce a clearly better paper. If you're not sure, don't deviate.

Evaluation of the Healthy Influence Paper

Technical Specifications for Proposal Draft

It must be single authored, with 8-12 pages (typed and double-spaced) in the body, with the APA style sheet. Use plain white paper and staple the pages together. Attach a title page. You do not need to bind or "wrap" the paper. Don't use a paper clip. PLEASE.

Technical Specifications for Final Draft

It must be single authored, with 15-20 pages (typed and double-spaced) in the body, with the APA style sheet. Use plain white paper and staple the pages together. Attach a title page. You do not need to bind or "wrap" the paper. Don't use a paper clip. PLEASE.

Evaluation of Proposal and Final Drafts

APA Style Sheet: Style sheet correctly applied to manuscript preparation, use of headers and levels, citations and references, paper structure (title page, abstract, body, references, tables, figures, appendices). I will show no mercy here. Buy the Style Sheet, read it, and use it correctly. (0-20) (0-40)

Scholarship: You must provide 5 scientific sources for the Problem section of the proposal. You must provide 3 scientific sources for the Strategy section of the proposal. You must use primary sources (original research reports) not secondary sources (e.g. a text book that describes original research). A "scientific" source is usually a periodic journal that is sponsored by a professional or academic (non-profit) association that employs anonymous, peer-review of articles. These sources usually have the words, "Journal," "Monograph," "Bulletin," "Research," or "Review" in the title. You may also cite non-scientific sources (popular press newspapers, magazines, television, radio, or Internet) but these do not count as "scientific." (0-20) (0-40)

Coverage: The proposal must address all sections specified in the Outline. Use each section as a Header in your paper. You may also use the subsections (when appropriate to your project) as additional Headers. Visit the Comm 221 Homepage and look at prior Healthy Influence papers for guidance here. (0-20) (0-40)

Writing: You must write with competent English skills, demonstrating correct grammar, spelling, etc. I am not a composition professor, but I do know the basic mechanics of good writing and I will apply them here. (0-20) (0-40)

Quality: I will make a somewhat subjective evaluation of the overall quality of the paper and the proposed project. A higher quality is found in a project that is very well researched, planned, and written. In other words, the better you do on the preceding criteria, the better you will do on the overall quality criterion. (0-20) (0-40)

Deadline: A 10% penalty will be applied for each day the paper is late. A paper is considered late when it is not turned in during the required class session.

Tentative Content Outline

1 Syllabus, class introduction, ASSIGN: scientific hazard article
2 The Numbers of Life, Discuss Hazard Article, Relate to HI Project

3 Comm Processes, Persuasion Basics, Chapters 1, 11, OK
4 A-B Link, Stages of Change, Measurement

5 ELM; Principles
6 ELM; Static View

7 ELM; Dynamic View
8 Influence Cues

9 Influence Cues,
10 Influence Cues, First Draft

11 Paper Feedback and Review
12 Test One on ELM and Cues

13 Attribution Theory

15 Sequential Requests
16 Inoculation

17 Mastery Unit on TRA and II

19 Dissonance Theory, Chapter 4, OK
20 Dissonance Theory

21 Mastery Unit on Social Judgment

23 SMCR Variables, Source, Chapters 7-10, OK
24 Message (Fear, Sidedness,); Group Draft for Project

25 Channel; Receiver (Gender, Self Esteem, IQ)
26 Something Interesting

27 Course Wrap Up; Review
28 Final Draft for Project

Final Exam

Other Topics: Subliminal Influence, Role Playing, Arguments and Evidence

Back to Comm 221 Homepage

Updated September 30, 1999; Copyright © SBB, 1995-99