The logic of message design: Individual differences in reasoning about communication

Barbara J. O'keefe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Scopus citations


It is hypothesized that there are systematic individual differences in the premises used to generate messages through ends to means reasoning. Reliance on these alternative sets of premises and beliefs—referred to as “message design logics”—can be detected in several different features of message design, including the kind of project undertaken in the message, the kinds of elements that appear in the message, the principles of coherence that connect message elements or units, and the manner in which goal integration is managed in message design. The paper offers models of three alternative message design logics and describes a general method of message analysis based on these models. The method of analysis is exemplified in a study of messages used in addressing a regulative communication task. Respondents were asked to provide messages they would address to a subordinate who failed to complete assigned work; these messages were classified in terms of the kind of goal set being pursued and the kind of reasoning reflected in their design. Male and female respondents differed systematically in the message design logic they employed, and there were significant relationships between interpersonal construct differentiation and message design logic and goal structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-103
Number of pages24
JournalCommunication Monographs
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics


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