The message has fascinated scholars for centuries. Aristotle emphasized that deductive syllogisms are the bases of rhetorical arguments. Twentiethcentury rhetoricians, building on Aristotle's foundations, identified key components of valid, cogent arguments (Toulmin, 1958). Contemporary scholars, taking as a given that messages work in concert with audience members, have explored the influences of different message factors on audiences, trying to understand which components are most impactful and why. This chapter examines the time-honored factor of the persuasive message, a key component of persuasion and a critical consideration for communication practitioners.
It seems pretty obvious.
The message—what you say and how you say it—influences people. Uh-huh, an intelligent person impatient with intellectual theories might think; now can we move on? Persuasion scholars would like to move on too—they have books to write, students to teach, and families to feed. But they—and you too no doubt—recognize that the message construct is so big and unwieldy that it needs to be broken down, decomposed, and analyzed in terms of content and process. Contemporary scholars, taking note of this issue, have seized on a concept that fascinated ancient philosophers and deconstructed it. Their research offers us a wealth of insights about communication effects.
There are three types of message factors. The first concerns the structure of the message—how it is prepared and organized. The second is the content of the communication—its appeals and arguments. The third