Communications Studies (COMS) 591 (L03):
Senior Seminar in Communication
Winter 2006
Instructor: Robert M. Seiler

Value: 25 per cent

Please return your essay on or before April 19th. I will be in my office (SS 308) that day from 2 to 5 pm.


This examination asks you to write a carefully organized essay of about eight pages or 2,000 words (double-spaced) on ONE of the topics listed below. Be sure to support your argument with references to the texts we have studied--and to other texts you find helpful. Remember that YOUR ESSAY WILL BE EVALUATED ON THE BASIS OF THE QUALITY OF WRITING AS WELL AS THE CONTENT. You will find the guidelines for preparing your final draft at the end of this exam.

  1. Scholars have defined "persuasion" in a variety of ways, approaching the act and the effect from scientific and from humanistic perspectives. This question asks you to think about your own understanding of this important topic. That is, compare and contrast the definition of persuasion you recorded at the start of the course with the one you would formulate today. Have you significantly changed your definition? If so, how and why? Which readings have been instrumental in modifying your understanding of the nature of persuasion? If you have not changed your definition, explain why you still think it is satisfactory.

  2. In this course, we study persuasion from an interdisciplinary perspective, combining the insights of scientists with those of humanists, with a view to understanding the dynamics of persuasion at work in a variety of situations. Larry Gross (1973) and Kenneth Burke (1966) helped us see that the key to understanding persuasion at work in any situation lies in appreciating the messages being conveyed, the mode(s) of symbolic communication employed, and the Terministic Screen through which one views the act or the effect. Which of the researchers and theorists we studied enabled you uncover the dynamics of persuasion that usually go unnoticed? Explain your choices.

  3. Compare and contrast two of the modes of communication in terms of the ways in which they can be made to serve persuasive purposes. One might consider, for example, music and statistics, considering that many mathematicians are also fine musicians. As Anthony Storr (1992) and Patricia Cohen (1982) point out, we encounter these modes wherever we go and (one might argue) take the messages conveyed by these modes for granted. (With regard to the latter view, we might think of the role that public opinion surveys play in politics today.) Be sure to explain the modes you've chosen, in terms of the uniqueness of the modes, to describe the situation(s) you cite to illustrate your discussion, and to identify the Terministic Screen through which you view the situation(s).

  4. In many ways, success in life (Larry Gross, 1973) is related to our ability to persuade as well as our ability to resist persuasion. Robert Cialdini (1993) alerted us to the interactive nature of persuasion, drawing our attention to those automatic patterns of behavior that compliance practitioners like to exploit. According to Cialdini, many people are either unaware of the influences at work in their lives or, when they are, they tend to overestimate the amount of freedom they have to make up their own minds. In your view, which of the researchers and theorists we studied offered directly or indirectly the best strategies for defending ourselves? Explain your choices.

Guidelines for preparing your final draft:

Use a standard font (Helvetica 10 or Times Roman 12) to type your proposal (double-spaced) on standard paper, i.e., 8.5 inches x 11 inches, and leave the appropriate margins, i.e., 1.5 inches on the right and the left, and 1 inch on the top and bottom.

Italicize (i.e., underline) the titles of works you mention, putting the date of publication in brackets, e.g., Jacques Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (1964).

For more details about providing bibliographic information, consult the Guide to the Presentation of Research, which can be found at

Please do not submit your paper in a folder.

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