linear-model-of-communication

What Is A Linear Model Of Communication? The Linear Model Of Communication In A Nutshell

The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient. The linear model of communication suggests communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.

Understanding linear models of communication

The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient.

Linear communication models are especially useful in customer-centric business activities such as marketing, sales, public relations, and broadcast advertising.

In fact, linear models may be effective in any scenario where message feedback from the recipient is quite separate from the initial communication itself.

These models also help companies determine how their promotional messages may be altered by their encoding process, choice of the transmission medium, and any potential noise interference.

The Shannon-Weaver model, the basis for all modern communication models, considers the communication process to be linear and one-way. Developed in 1949 by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, it consists of six elements:

  1. Sender (information source) – the person who starts the communication process by transmitting information.
  2. Encoder (transmitter) – the person or machine responsible for converting the information into a signal that can be understood by the receiver. In Shannon and Weaver’s day, one-way communication was the norm and occurred mostly via telegraph and radio.
  3. Channel (medium) – or the infrastructure supporting the transmission of the message from sender to receiver. An individual sending an email is using the internet as their channel.
  4. Noise – or any factor responsible for the information being misinterpreted, categorized according to whether it is internal or external. Internal noise is the result of the sender making a mistake, such as a misspelled word in a text message. External noise occurs when something outside the control of the sender or receiver impedes the message. Two people attempting to have a conversation at a loud rock concert is one example.
  5. Decoder – in most cases, a device that decodes the encoded message sent by the sender into a format that is understandable for the receiver. Today, this device is usually a smartphone.
  6. Receiver (destination) – the receiver is the person who receives the information transmitted by the sender. 

Other linear communication models

In this section, let’s take a look at some other linear communication models.

Aristotle’s model

aristotle-model-of-communication
The Aristotle model of communication is a linear model with a focus on public speaking. The Aristotle model of communication was developed by Greek philosopher and orator Aristotle, who proposed the linear model to demonstrate the importance of the speaker and their audience during communication. 

Although the Shannon-Weaver model was one of the first modern communication frameworks, Greek philosopher Aristotle proposed a similar model around 300 B.C.

Aristotle focused on public speaking as opposed to interpersonal communication.

As a result, the Aristotle model of communication can be broken down into five broad elements:

  1. Speaker – the individual delivering the message.
  2. Speech – the information that is communicated.
  3. Occasion – the context of the communication. For example, the occasion of a politician delivering an address to votes may be an imminent election.
  4. Audience – a collection of individuals who passively receive the information that is transmitted.
  5. Effect – the intention of the speaker. In the case of a politician, their communication intends to persuade voters to vote for them.

Since Aristotle’s model is speaker-centric, it also details three elements that are essential to effective public speaking.

These relate to credibility, authority, and an ability to connect with the audience on an emotional level. The speaker must also be able to support their statements with relevant facts and data.

Berlo’s SMCR model

berlos-smcr-model
Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960, who expanded the Shannon-Weaver model of communication into clear and distinct parts. Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.

Berlo’s SMCR model was developed by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960. Berlo took the Shannon-Weaver model and expanded it into several clear and distinct components.

He saw communication as a linear process that was only successful when the skills of the person receiving the message complemented (or were equal to) those of the sender.

There are four elements to the model which comprise the SMCR acronym:

  1. Source/sender (S) – where the message originates. The source is impacted by factors such as communication skills, knowledge, culture, social system, and attitude.
  2. Message (M) – the information that is sent from the sender to the receiver. Message factors include content, elements (language, gesturing), treatment (how the message is conveyed), and structure. Code, or the means through which the message is sent and in what form, is also important. For the message to be clear, the code must be clear.
  3. Channel (C) – in Berlo’s model, a channel refers to the five senses: hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Most messages are heard or seen, but the other senses are also important.
  4. Receiver (R) –  the individual who receives the message. For the message to be understood correctly, the receiver must possess comparable traits in terms of culture, social system, attitude, knowledge, or skill.

Lasswell’s communication model

Lasswell’s communication model was created by Harold Lasswell, a political scientist and communication theorist. 

lasswell-communication-model
The Lasswell communication model is a linear framework for explaining the communication process through segmentation. Lasswell proposed media propaganda performs three social functions: surveillance, correlation, transmission. Lasswell believed the media could impact what viewers believed about the information presented.

Lasswell’s model describes the communication process by asking the following questions:

  • Who? – this may be a person or institution in a position of authority.
  • Says what? – the message that is communicated, such as a news story, political story, or some other story with a hero, villain, and important theme.
  • In which channel? – such as television, radio, magazines, letters, or photography.
  • To whom? – the receiver of the message. Lasswell noted that this encompassed citizens, newspaper readers, or specific segments such as children, adults, or women.
  • With what effect? – or the context-dependent feedback the receiver sends to the sender.

The model was initially created to analyze mass communication by the media and the role that media propaganda plays in society.

However, it can also be used for interpersonal communication or in any situation where information is disseminated to groups.

In this way, Lasswell’s model incorporates aspects of non-linear communication.

Criticisms of linear models of communication

transactional-model-of-communication
The transactional model of communication describes communication as a two-way, interactive process within social, relational, and cultural contexts. The transactional model of communication is best exemplified by two models. Barnlund’s model describes communication as a complex, multi-layered process where the feedback from the sender becomes the message for the receiver. Dance’s helical model is another example, which suggests communication is continuous, dynamic, evolutionary, and non-linear.

Although straightforward and easy to understand, there are obvious limitations to linear models of communication.

Communication theories proposed by Shannon and Weaver assume communication to be a one-way process where each person takes turns sending and receiving information.

Modern scholars, however, tend to agree that communication is a more complicated and dynamic process where both individuals embody the sender and receiver role simultaneously. 

This is especially true during face-to-face conversations, where body language and gesturing complements spoken language as a means of transmitting messages.

Theorist Norbert Weiner later added a seventh element to the Shannon-Weaver model to describe feedback, or the receiver’s interpretation of the transmitted message sent back to the sender.

However, some saw this addition as an afterthought since the concept of feedback was foreign to Weaver when he developed the model.

Furthermore, linear models fail to consider how context or an individual’s personal experiences impact communication.

Some people may shout at the television during a sporting match based on their personality and unique life experiences, while others may react calmly to the same footage.

Of course, the television broadcaster transmitting the message is doing so to a large number of receivers and cannot possibly cater to them all.

Laswell’s model of communication, another linear communication model, seeks to address this limitation by deconstructing the elements of mass communication into five distinct components.

These components help the receiver decipher the meaning of the message sent and the intention of the individual or company sending it.

Linear communication examples

We will now take a look at some common examples of linear communication in real-world situations. For the sake of consistency, we will use the framework of the Shannon-Weaver model to describe each example.

Sending an internal work email

  • Sender – an employee, supervisor, manager, or executive.
  • Encoder (transmitter) – in the case of email and some other forms of electronic communication, the most popular form of encoding is the UTF-8 system that defines words, symbols, and other special characters. The email is then encoded by an email client that connects with an outgoing Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) server. This server then validates the details of the sender, processes the email for sending, and places it in the outgoing queue. 
  • Channel (medium) – in this case, the channel by which an email is sent is the internet. More specifically, the SMTP server looks up the DNS server of the sender’s domain and retrieves the recipient’s server information. Then, the SMTP server connects to the email server of the recipient and sends the email via SMTP protocol.
  • Noise – there can be many sources of noise in a workplace. For one, the recipient may have left their reading glasses at home and cannot decipher the words on the screen. There may also be issues with connectivity that prevent the process of sending an email from occurring.
  • Decoder – the decoder is the recipient’s email server that connects with the SMTP server, validates the recipient’s account, and ensures the email is sent to the correct address. 
  • Receiver (destination) – the destination of an email is the inbox of the recipient such as a friend, colleague, superior, or subordinate.

The broadcast of a television advertisement 

  • Sender – the sender of a television advertisement is the television network itself. However, the sender could also be defined as the sports equipment manufacturer that wants to advertise during a football match, for example.
  • Encoder (transmitter) – in most cases, a television signal is sent by wire to an antenna on a building owned by the television network. In this example, however, the transmitter is located at the football stadium which broadcasts the signal as an electromagnetic wave. Television stations are allocated certain frequencies to transmit their broadcasts and avoid interference with other networks.
  • Channel (medium) – here, the medium is a television transmitter that emits radio waves that carry a video signal and synchronized audio channel. If the individual viewing the football match is a long distance from the encoder, transmitters act as relay towers to reamplify the message and ensure that it reaches its destination.
  • Noise – noise is less prevalent in television communication now that most broadcasts have shifted from analog to digital. However, it still occurs in the form of interference from trees, tall buildings, streaming devices, mobile phone towers, mountains, LED bulbs, inclement weather, and poor antenna condition. Noise may also encompass a receiver that is distracted or otherwise disinterested when the ad for the sports equipment is aired.
  • Decoder – the decoder is the television in the consumer’s home. Connected to an aerial on the roof of the home, it converts the digital signal sent by the transmitter into moving images and sound that convey the messages in the advertisement itself.
  • Receiver (destination) – the receiver is the person sitting in their living room watching the game and periodic advertisements.

Key takeaways:

  • Linear models of communication suggest communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.
  • The first linear model of communication was the Shannon-Weaver model. The six elements that describe the one-way communication process are sender, encoder, channel, noise, decoder, and receiver.
  • There are several limitations to linear communication models. For one, they ignore the fact that communication is a dynamic process where both individuals embody the sender and receiver roles simultaneously. They also ignore non-verbal forms of communication in face-to-face conversation and how messages are interpreted when there is one sender and multiple receivers.

What are the three linear models of communication?

The three linear models of communication comprise:

Each of these models has its specificities.

What is the advantage of linear communication?

A linear model of communication strength lies in its ability to convey a message by trying to clear out the noise from the same, thus enabling the message to get on the other side (from sender to receiver) in as unambiguous a way as possible. Yet, it’s worth highlighting that also the linear model of communication has major drawbacks, as noise can get in the way of making a message unambiguous to the receiver.

What is the best example of linear communication?

Take the case of sending an internal work email. You have the sender, which is an employee; and the encoder, which is the underlying tech stack that enables the email to be received through that channel. Noise can materialize in various forms. It can be technical, like the case of an email not displaying correctly, or personal, like the case of the receiver not able to read because he is not wearing her/his glasses.

Read Next: Lasswell Communication Model, Linear Model Of Communication.

Connected Communication Models

Aristotle’s Model of Communication

aristotle-model-of-communication
The Aristotle model of communication is a linear model with a focus on public speaking. The Aristotle model of communication was developed by Greek philosopher and orator Aristotle, who proposed the linear model to demonstrate the importance of the speaker and their audience during communication. 

Communication Cycle

linear-model-of-communication
The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient. The linear model of communication suggests communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.

Berlo’s SMCR Model

berlos-smcr-model
Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960, who expanded the Shannon-Weaver model of communication into clear and distinct parts. Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.

Helical Model of Communication

helical-model-of-communication
The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the three-dimensional spring-like curve of a helix. It argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.

Lasswell Communication Model

lasswell-communication-model
The Lasswell communication model is a linear framework for explaining the communication process through segmentation. Lasswell proposed media propaganda performs three social functions: surveillance, correlation, and transmission. Lasswell believed the media could impact what viewers believed about the information presented.

Modus Tollens

modus-tollens
Modus tollens is a deductive argument form and a rule of inference used to make conclusions of arguments and sets of arguments.  Modus tollens argues that if P is true then Q is also true. However, P is false. Therefore Q is also false. Modus tollens as an inference rule dates back to late antiquity where it was taught as part of Aristotelian logic. The first person to describe the rule in detail was Theophrastus, successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.

Five Cannons of Rhetoric

five-canons-of-rhetoric
The five canons of rhetoric were first organized by Roman philosopher Cicero in his treatise De Inventione in around 84 BC. Some 150 years later, Roman rhetorician Quintilian explored each of the five canons in more depth as part of his 12-volume textbook entitled Institutio Oratoria. The work helped the five canons become a major component of rhetorical education well into the medieval period. The five canons of rhetoric comprise a system for understanding powerful and effective communication.

Communication Strategy

communication-strategy-framework
A communication strategy framework clarifies how businesses should communicate with their employees, investors, customers, and suppliers. Some of the key elements of an effective communication strategy move around purpose, background, objectives, target audience, messaging, and approach.

Noise if Communication

noise-in-communication
Noise is any factor that interferes with or impedes effective communication between a sender and receiver. When noise disrupts the communication process or prevents the transmission of information, it is said to be communication noise.

7 Cs of Communication

7-cs-of-communication
The 7Cs of communication is a set of guiding principles on effective communication skills in business, moving around seven principles for effective business communication: clear, concise, concrete, correct, complete, coherent, and courteous.

Transactional Model of Communication

transactional-model-of-communication
The transactional model of communication describes communication as a two-way, interactive process within social, relational, and cultural contexts. The transactional model of communication is best exemplified by two models. Barnlund’s model describes communication as a complex, multi-layered process where the feedback from the sender becomes the message for the receiver. Dance’s helical model is another example, which suggests communication is continuous, dynamic, evolutionary, and non-linear.

Connected Business Concepts

Heuristics

heuristic
As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Bounded Rationality

bounded-rationality
Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Second-Order Thinking

second-order-thinking
Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

lateral-thinking
Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Moonshot Thinking

moonshot-thinking
Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.

Biases

biases
The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

dunning-kruger-effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

occams-razor
Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Mandela Effect

mandela-effect
The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

crowding-out-effect
The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

bandwagon-effect
The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What is marketing can be associated with social proof.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger

Read Next: Heuristics, Biases.

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