Department of Communication



Informative Messages

Chapter 10

All rhetorical messages are designed to influence an audience in some manner. Informative messages are designed to influence understand; to make it clearer or more developed. They are not designed to change or reinforce opinions, though sometimes that occurs as a side effect.

Persuasive Versus Informative Intent

The difference lies primarily in what the source intends. Persuasive messages the intent is overt and clearly indicated. Informative messages may have intent, but consciously tries to reject displaying such an attitude. What is often the case is that the source makes an external effort to be fair and not influence attitude, but subtly and internally their beliefs may emerge that suggests a persuasive intent. This may be unconscious and does not imply that the source is being dishonest or unethical. In short, we may have hard time being purely objective if we hold strong feelings about a subject. The source may fall into what the text calls “fuzzy thinking” in that the only material presented are those data that support one side of an issue. While the source may be passionate about being neutral, their subconscious bias may influence the material presented and its intent. In short, this is really a persuasive speech in informative speech clothing. And “whenever a source has either a conscious or unconscious intent to persuade, he or she does not have informative intent.” Informative speeches should have a two-sides (more on this in Chapter 12) in which each side is presented equally with reliable information. And whatever conclusions the audience may draw are of no concern to the source. Unlike the persuasive speech in which the source makes an concerted effort to lead the audience to a predetermined and overt conclusion.

Pseudo-Informative Messages

Any persuasive message cloaked in informative design. It may be structured to fit an informative speech pattern and be given verbal assurances that is informative. But the material presented and pattern used to deliver the message point to a conclusion the source desires. May be subtle and certainly nothing unethical about these messages. But audiences must be vigilant to recognize the differences.

The Goodwill Informative Message

Its purpose is to “enhance the image or ethos of an individual or organization , not to provide understanding for the audience, even though factual information may be provided.” The source of this type of message is concerned with persuasive intent; to enhance the audience’s favorable image of the person or the organization. As “information” is presented, the audience will hopefully feel better about the person or organization, thus producing a persuasive result.

The Motivation to Inform

Our motivation in persuasive messages is somewhat selfish; getting an audience to support our beliefs so we will benefit in some way (directly or indirectly). We are exposed to such motivations over and over in our lives. Informative motivations are more altruistic; we receive no direct or indirect benefit the audience beliefs. Our beloved author argues that teachers are altruistic…agree or is this a load of BS? (now is my motivation persuasive or informative with that question?) Bottom line: “informative intent is motivated by both selfish and altruistic purposes, whereas persuasive intent is primarily selfishly motivated.”

Understanding and Belief

To distinguish information from persuasion, you have to distinguish understanding from that of belief. Understanding amounts to a group of beliefs. A necessary condition for achieving informative effect is an adequate level of credibility in the source. If we don’t believe that the source is relatively knowledgeable and trustworthy on the subject being discussed, we may perceive the message to be more persuasive than informative. The more or higher the credibility of the source, the more likely we will perceive the message as truth or information rather than an attempt to persuade us. Understanding is based upon belief and beliefs need to be instilled in informative messages. Prior beliefs and source credibility can lead to an audience acceptance a message as information or truth.

Understanding: Determining the Informative Goal

The concept of understanding is explained in this section. How do we know what understanding is or what is means?

When our directions are followed; when something is done the way we want it done. Our goal is to have the receiver do a job the way we want it.

When predictions can be made; when an audience can accurately predict future behavior.

When the receiver can accurately restate what we have said; give the verbal equivalent of our message.

When the receiver can do or undertake the actions we have prescribed.

When the receiver can solve a problem or recognize the steps necessary to complete a task.

When the receiver can make responses to certain stimuli that we consider appropriate.

When the receiver can make an evaluation and draw a conclusion based on independent stimuli.

While the goal of a persuasive message is to stimulate the receiver to engage in predetermined behaviors. For example, to become an active and regular blood donor. Informative messages is to enable the receiver to engage in certain behaviors; not really to get him or her to do so. For example, the receiver may understand the process and value of donating blood. All we have done is create the ability to act through this understanding. But when they act on this understanding they are persuaded.

Two Characteristics of Informative Messages—

Clarity—has to do with our style; our word choice and how we use language. This is always a virtue; the clearer we are with our message, the more likely we will successful with our objective. Clarity is usually, but not always, desired with persuasive messages.

Objectivity—persuasive messages may be fairly presented but they are biased, by design. Informative ones must be purely objective. The source must not care what conclusion the audience draws from the message.

The Materials for Informative Messages

Useful supporting material when constructing an informative message are analogies, various examples, and statistics. In short, what follows are materials gathered, organized, and presented in an effort to make our ideas clear to our audience.

Analogies—great devices for clarifying since they compare or relate something we know (the familiar) to something we don’t know (the unfamiliar). Helpful in making complex subjects clearer and more easily understood. Can be used easily for persuasive messages if the intent is to influence attitudes (like encouraging casino gambling in Texas by comparing this state with Louisiana).

Factual Examples—description of a real thing or event. Something that is verifiable and believed to be true. For example, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Hypothetical Examples—an imaginary instance is told to the audience. Can be as effective as factual examples, but the hypothetical situation has to be plausible; believable to the audience. Can serve to effectively describe and relate more abstract ideas into clearer and more vivid imagery.

Statistics—key issue to qualify them; let the audience the source of the statistical data. Without a source, we have no way to judge the quality or level of trust in the numbers. Additionally, make them interesting; show how the statistical data are relevant or meaningful to the audience. Potentially a great support material for informative messages but must be used properly.

Visual Aids in Informative Messages

Combining the visual with the verbal message component obviously increases the likelihood of learning, and thus, success. Not necessary for all rhetorical messages but certainly worthy of consideration and use in most cases.

Some suggestions for using visual aids:

Make sure the visual aid can be seen by all the audience. If not, don’t show it. Not being able to see something that others can, will have an irritating effect on those unable to see. Make it large enough so everyone can see it. In short, if you know the audience can’t see it, don’t show it.

Talk to your audience; not to the audience aid. It’s fine to look at it on occasion while referring to the information on it, but never forget who your primary audience is and where they are located.

Show it to the audience when they need to see it but then remove it. Showing an audience a visual aid when you are talking about something else is a distraction, to say the least.

Normally unwise to pass objects around the audience. Hold on to possession of your visual aid. It can become competition for you and your message.

Make the visual aids easy to understand. Simple and straight-forward is almost always wisest. Complex and detailed pieces of information are best left for written documentation where the audience can go back and review at their own pace. Impossible for them to do that in an oral presentation.

The visual aids should catch your audience’s attention. Make them interesting and have some level of substance on them.

Just a few words that serve little purpose and will be of little value. Have something to say or don’t bother using a visual aid. If it will make a meaningful contribution and add clarity to the message, then use a visual aid. If not, don’t bother.

Beware of electronic devices. Power Point has become the prime culprit. Nothing wrong with the concept or the program, but due to its frequent use, it seems to be the source of too many failures to perform; for whatever the reason might be. Remember Murphy’s Law…it something can fail it will fail and at the worst possible moment.