In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Message Characteristics and Persuasion

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Message Characteristics and Persuasion
Daniel J. O'Keefe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0206


The role of message characteristics in persuasion has long been a subject of research attention—for good reason: Variation in the features of a message can make for differences in the message’s persuasiveness. This article provides a guide to, in turn, general overviews of the topic, discussions of relevant methodological issues (either in primary research or in meta-analytic syntheses), and the research evidence bearing on a number of specific message variations. A great many different message variables have received at least some research attention as possible influences on persuasive outcomes, with some of these the subject of hundreds of studies. However, there is no conventional taxonomy for describing or organizing the message characteristics potentially relevant to persuasion. The organizational scheme here distinguishes macro-level and micro-level message variations, but this is more a matter of convenience than a tight conceptual distinction.

General Overviews

Dillard 2014, Harrington 2017, and Shen and Bigsby 2013 provide general discussions of the role of message characteristics in persuasion. Dillard 2014 distinguishes granular (word- or sentence-level) and thematic (more abstract) language variations. Harrington 2017 differentiates micro-level and macro-level message features. Shen and Bigsby 2013 distinguishes content, structure, and stylistic message variations.

  • Dillard, J. P. 2014. Language, style, and persuasion. In The Oxford handbook of language and social psychology. Edited by T. M. Holtgraves, 177–187. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Covers a number of message variations, including rhetorical questions, conclusion explicitness, and powerful language.

  • Harrington, N. G. 2017. Persuasive health message design. In Oxford research encyclopedia of communication. Edited by J. F. Nussbaum. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.7

    A general discussion of persuasive message design issues as arising in health contexts. Includes discussion of a number of message variations, including figurative language, message sidedness, and emotional appeals.

  • Shen, L., and E. Bigsby. 2013. The effects of message features: Content, structure, and style. In The SAGE handbook of persuasion: Developments in theory and practice. 2d ed. Edited by J. P. Dillard and L. Shen, 20–35. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Discusses several message variations, including sidedness, argument order, and figurative language.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.