(Note:  This sample paper includes only two schools of thought for each term.  Your actual paper requires a review of three schools of thought.)


Definitional Paper

    For some time communication scholars have been interested in the study of persuasion (Larson, 1983;  Oliver, 1957).  This paper will examine a particular research issue in persuasion.  Specifically, this paper will review a problem question for research, appraise chief definitions for the first major term in the problem, and will assess some competing definitions for the second major term in the problem.

    Source credibility remains an important variable in persuasive communication (Cronkhite, 1969, ch. 5;  Thompson, 1975, ch. 3).  The chief question isolated for research in this paper is:  What is the relationship between source credibility of a persuasive communicator and attitude change?  This question may invite both definition and research.  The problem question contains two major terms for definition.  The first of these key terms is source credibility and the second key term is attitude.  Each term will be reviewed separately.

     Source credibility is rich term in communication studies.  Although there may be many reasonable definitions for this term, two major schools of thought will be examined here.  The first of these schools of thought holds that source credibility is equivalent to general person perception.  One such description states that source credibility is "the image held of a communicator at a given time by a receiver--either a person or a group [Andersen & Clevenger, 1963, p. 59]."  Notwithstanding its popularity, this definitional approach suffers the defect of not excluding situations or individuals not properly included in the term defined.  The term "image" may refer to any perception of a source, including size, weight, hair color and the like.  Since this definition may include much that goes beyond the domain of source credibility, it does not appear to be a particularly worthy one.  A second school of thought when defining source credibility views it as an evaluation that an audience has toward a source.  Typical of scholars advancing such a view is James McCroskey who defined source credibility as "the attitude toward the speaker held by the audience [1972, p. 63]."  This statement seems to be a very useful definition and satisfies all standards required of acceptable definitions.  In passing, one might observe, however, that even this definition might be criticized for potential circularity.  The worth of the definition depends on the clarity of another term, attitude.  To the extent that this secondary term may not be defined acceptably, the source credibility definition also might be questioned.  With careful attention to such secondary definitions, this potential circularity could be avoided.  On balance, it appears that the view of credibility as an attitude is a more precise definition of the concept than the view of credibility as a speaker's general image.

    The second major term in the problem question is attitude.  Of the host of approaches to defining attitudes, two key perspectives will be indicated here.  One view holds that attitudes are predispositions to act in some way or another.  Krueger and Reckless described attitudes as "acquired tendencies to act in specific ways toward objects [1931, p. 238]."  Though this statement appears to meet standards for acceptable definitions, it might be noted that this view is far from ideal on other grounds.  The chief deficiency associated with this perspective is that it lends itself to circularity, even though it may meet structural standards for definitions.  Attitudes are inferred to exist only if overt behaviors ultimately are performed.  Such a position also seems to beg the question since attitudes are presumed to exist only if predicted behaviors are observed.1  aviors ultimately are performed.  Such a position also seems to beg the question since attitudes are presumed to exist only if predicted behaviors are observed.1   A second school of thought views attitudes as evaluations.  L. L. Thurstone (1931) described attitudes as degrees of "affect for or against a psychological object [p. 261]."   This definition, restricted as it is to affective behavior, may exclude other behaviors that may be of interest to researchers, such as performance of overt behaviors.   Yet, such a limitation may be an acceptable one.  Taken as a whole, it seems that the view of attitudes as predispositions to respond is unacceptable, whereas the conception of attitudes as evaluations is an adequate, albeit limited, alternative.

This paper has suggested a problem statement and has compared definitional approaches for each of its major terms.  This paper has argued that reasonable definitions of terms may be found for both source credibility and attitudes.



     1There is reason to believe that attitudes may not consistently predict behaviors anyway.  See Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) for an extended review of this problem--and a potential solution based on the concept of intentions to perform overt behaviors of single dichotomous acts.



Andersen, K., & Clevenger, T.  (1963).  A summary of experimental
    research in ethos.  Speech Monographs, 30, 59-78.

Cronkhite, G. L.  (1969).  Persuasion:  Speech and behavioral change.  Indianapolis:  Bobbs-Merrill.

Fishbein, M., & Ajzen, I.  (1975).  Belief, attitude, intention, and
    behavior:   An introduction to theory and research.  Reading, MA:

Krueger, E. T., & Reckless, W. C.  (1931).  Social psychology.  New
    York:  Longmans, Green.

Larson, C. U.  (1983).  Persuasion:  Reception and responsibility (3rd
    ed.)  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth.

McCroskey, J. C.  (1972).  An introduction to rhetorical communication
    (2nd ed.).  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice-Hall.

Oliver, R. T.  (1957).  The psychology of persuasive speech (2nd ed.). 
New York:  David McKay.

Thompson, W. N.  (1975).  The process of persuasion:  Principles and
    readings.  New York:  Harper & Row.

Thurstone, L. L.  (1931).  The measurement of social attitudes. 
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 26, 249-269.