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S1: Credibility Assessment

S1: Credibility Assessment 

COMS 195-03 | Fall 2016 | Jonathan Hunt

In class, Tuesday September 6

Purpose: This speaking assignment asks you to apply course concepts to real-world situations.

In class and in the assigned readings, we’ve studied a number of different models of credibility in human communication. The goal of this assignment is to apply what you’ve learned: you’ll analyze and assess credibility. This is one of the most important skills in human communication.

A successful presentation will show very strong knowledge of concepts, ideas, and claims discussed in class and in readings. This means that you should discuss specific ideas, claims, or arguments from the readings.

But it isn’t enough merely to summarize readings. A successful S1 presentation will also demonstrate an ability to apply course content to new contexts. By discussing and evaluating the credibility in a real-world situation, you will show that you can use course material to understand the world around us and the humans in it.

Topic — as always, you should try to develop a topic that is interesting and valuable to you. You can choose to focus on:

  • a person (a writer, speaker, athlete, scientist, politician, activist… anyone)
  • an institution (a company or brand, a non-profit, a government agency, a club or team…)
  • an object (a particular bicycle or accessory such as a helmet, a drug-testing procedure…)

In a short presentation, it’s probably best to focus on a specific idea (for example, goodwill in community policing)—rather than trying to cover all aspects of credibility.

Ingredients (the first three are essential; the fourth is optional):

1. Some information about the person, institution, or object you would like to discuss. You are the only one in this class who has studied this topic, so you need to give us enough information about it so we can understand your argument.

2. A discussion of credibility, drawing on sources provided in class (Horner, Tseng & Fogg). In any important communication, it’s necessary to define key terms or concepts. It is a mistake to assume that your audience shares your definition of a specific word or idea.

Text reads: Credibility can be defined as believablility. Credible people are believable people; credibile information is believable information. Some language use the same word for these two English words. In our research, we have found that believability is a good synonym for credibility in virtually all cases. The academic literature on credibility dates back to the 1950s, arising mostly from the fields of psychology and communication....
Excerpt from Tseng & Fogg

Example: in this excerpt from Tseng and Fogg’s report on credibility research, they begin with a basic definition (right), then add some history and complexity to the definition.

3. Your own assessment of the credibility of the person or object of your analysis—remember, credibility is always a relationship to an audience. You should show awareness of how different audiences might react to this book. You should build your case with specific examples and evidence from the book itself and from our course texts.

4. OPTIONAL: you can also refer to news reports, books, articles, or other “outside” information

Format and Logistics:

  • Length: ~3 minutes
  • Visual aids or slider optional (email me if you want to use the projector)
  • Sources: use course readings as sources (where appropriate); other sources optional
  • This project requires four to five blog posts:

a “write-out” — a draft of what you plan to say. It should be about 400 words

2 rehearsal videos (3 if you would like to get an A)

a reflection/ self-assessment (posted after your talk)

A Unnatural History of Golden Gate Park (podcast)

USF Professor David Silver teaches a famed first-year seminar on Golden Gate Park. When I mentioned that we will be exploring the park on bicycles, he recommended this podcast on the history of GGP and the role it plays in the social and ecological life of San Francisco.

Here’s the An Unnatural History of Golden Gate Park site. It was produced by the Studio for Urban Projects.

You can also find An Unnatural History of Golden Gate Park on iTunes.

BJ Fogg, co-author of “Computers and Credibility”

As we discussed today, a smart credibility assessment doesn’t just look at one source of information. It’s often worth it to dig a little deeper.

Here’s the website of BJ Fogg (, co-author of the article we read for today. This is a good place to learn more about Fogg and his research… but a full credibility assessment would go even further.

If you are interested in psychology, I recommend watching the video.


For class Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thanks everyone for a great trip to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. It was great to meet Executive Director Brian Wiedenmeier and Membership Assistant Kelsey Roeder (you can read their bios on the

For Thursday, here are your 4 tasks:

  1. Your first talk in front of the class is coming up next week. It’s time to think about some of the things we said we value in public speakers: confidence, eye contact, body language, volume & variety of voice — all the things that count as delivery. To continue our conversation about this, watch this video of author and speaker Malcolm Gladwell (I also invite you to look at some of his pubic lectures  or TED talks and read some of his published writing). So, Task 1: watch.
  2. B.J. Fogg is an instructor at Stanford and a persuasion guru. As a graduate student, he researched the idea of credibility in computing design. Read this short research article co-written by Tseng and Fogg, “Credibility and Computing Technology” (library login required). Alert! This is an article written for an audience of specialists, so parts of it may be hard to follow. Our focus will be on the concept of credibility (not on their methodology or on computing technology). Come to class ready to talk about their ideas about credibility. Task 2: read.
  3. Spend 15-30 minutes on the website of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Look around in the tabs at the top of the page: News, Events, Resources, Our Work, About…  As you poke around, think about Horner’s ideas of credibility as well as Tseng and Fogg’s ideas. Task 3: surf.
  4. Write a comment (use the comment function, below), making a connection between at least 2 of the 3 tasks (above). For example, how does Gladwell’s position relate to Tseng and Fogg? Or, how do Tseng and Fogg’s ideas apply to the SFBC site? Your comment can be informal, can include questions, criticisms, examples, etc., and should be about 50 words or so. Task 4: write.

Speaking of Rhetoric

The New York Times has just published an opinion article about public speaking and rhetoric. The article focuses on Donald Trump, but illuminates larger questions of authenticity and honesty in political speech. “Across the West,” the writer tells us, “the conventional language of politics really is undergoing a crisis of credibility.”