About the Scholarship

On the other hand, you may think of handgun violence, corporate power, or right-wing extremism. Regardless of your views on the role of firearms, the NRA is likely to raise strong feelings on all sides of the issue. Semiotics helps you to anticipate possible audience reactions to words, images, and concepts you intend to present in your messages. Understanding the symbolic meaning behind them helps you identify ideal symbols to use and red-flag symbols to avoid. So far, we have discussed heuristics that focus upon persuasive impact of the message.


Now it’s time to consider the nature of the audience and how they might perceive and respond to your message. Social judgment theory, constructed by Carolyn Sherif, Muzafer Sherif, and Roger Nebergall in the 1960s, can help you analyze your audience in persuasive writing situations. Social judgment theory states that people filter messages through a set of comparisons to determine their position on a given message. For instance, you hear a message and think of how it compares to other messages that you have internalized from past experiences with the topic. Some messages you accept, some you don’t care about, and others you reject. Social judgment theory states that hot-button issues such as gun control or education are likely to have small areas, or latitudes, of acceptance and noncommittal and large areas of rejection.


By contrast, the issue of world poverty, although highly significant on a global scale, is sadly not a hotbutton issue for many of us. Most US citizens probably exhibit a larger latitude of acceptance and commitment on this issue because they have not had much experience with it. Charting these latitudes as you create persuasive messages will help you to select the right words and messages to fit your audience’s latitude of acceptance.