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Communication Teacher
ISSN: 1740-4622 (Print) 1740-4630 (Online) Journal homepage:
Using initial, derived, and terminal credibility to
help students understand how they are perceived
by others
Marcia Berry
To cite this article: Marcia Berry (2017): Using initial, derived, and terminal credibility to
help students understand how they are perceived by others, Communication Teacher, DOI:
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Published online: 17 Oct 2017.
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Download by: [University of Florida]
Date: 25 October 2017, At: 02:29
Using initial, derived, and terminal credibility to help students
understand how they are perceived by others
Marcia Berry
Downloaded by [University of Florida] at 02:29 25 October 2017
Communication Studies Department and Honors College, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, USA
Courses: Public Speaking, Interpersonal Communication,
Organizational Communication, Introduction to Communication
Studies, Business Communication
Objectives: The goal for this activity is not only to provide students
with an understanding of their initial, derived, and terminal
credibility when relating a personal, edifying story but also to
understand how they are initially perceived by their fellow students.
Received 19 April 2016
Accepted 8 February 2017
Introduction and rationale
The slight smirk … the shy glance … the entitled look … the feigned arrogance … the
welcoming smile—these are all expressions that fellow classmates have witnessed in the
classroom. These initial expressions coupled with how students answer questions, walk
into the room, and look or do not look at one another blend into students’ initial
impressions of one another. While business researchers are fully aware of the power/
effect of the initial impression (Swider, Barrick, & Harris, 2016), not all undergraduates
are, nor do they understand that their credibility itself can change based upon a presentation (McCroskey, 2006). Anchored in McCroskey’s (2006) initial, derived and terminal
credibility (pp. 89–94) as well as Sprague’s (1993) observation that students “see each
other as sources of insight” (p. 353), the proposed single-class activity provides two
such insights for students: their first impressions as perceived by their classmates, and
their final impression after a mini-presentation.
As previously mentioned, the power of the initial impression is well understood in the
business world. Management professors, Swider et al. (2016), observed the effect of “the
first few minutes” in interviews (Conclusion), and Barrick et al. (2012) noted that a
lasting impression is established in the first few minutes. If undergraduates can be convinced of the power of their first impressions as well as understand their own first
impressions, they can choose more purposefully their initial impression in other
Besides this understanding, students can discover the effect of their initial impression in
public speaking. In public speaking, students learn that both speech content and delivery
determine whether a speaker is considered adequate, excellent, or sub-par. For example,
students are taught that good expository speeches give them good speaker credibility
CONTACT Marcia Berry
University, 901 E. Alosta, Azusa, CA 91702, USA
© 2017 National Communication Association
Communication Studies Department and Honors College, Azusa Pacific
Downloaded by [University of Florida] at 02:29 25 October 2017
(Tompkins & Samovar, 1964) while anxious-appearing students are deemed “less influential” (McCroskey & Richmond, 1976, p. 21). Additionally, if students are disorganized or
fall into “vocal nonfluencies,” they are less likely to persuade an audience (McCroskey &
Mehrley, 1969, p. 20). Typically, however, students do not realize that their own initial
impression of a classmate may be altered during that student’s presentation. The proposed
activity challenges students to reveal to one another their initial impressions and whether
that impression remains constant during a mini-classroom presentation. In order to guide
this classroom activity, students need a basic understanding of McCroskey’s initial,
derived, and terminal credibility.
McCroskey’s (2006) initial, derived, and terminal source credibility distinctly label
the three-step process for this activity (pp. 89–94). McCroskey (2006) defined initial
source credibility as a combination of “background, personal characteristics, and
appearance” as well as “surroundings” (p. 89). In other words, initial source credibility
is primarily based upon students’ early observations of one another. McCroskey’s
derived source credibility occurs during the presentation and focuses on the effectiveness of delivery, main points, and support (p. 91). For this category, student observers
decide if their initial impression remains consistent during the actual speech or if the
speaker becomes more competent, less competent, or something else. Finally, McCroskey’s terminal source credibility is simply the final impression based upon the initial
impression and the actual speech (p. 94). To summarize the implementation of
McCroskey and the proposed activity, students in the audience will note their initial
impressions of a student, followed by whether that initial impression continued
though the mini-presentation, and conclude by stating their final impressions of their
classmates. Once this information has been shared with the students, the debriefing
challenges students to consider maintaining their current initial impression or
working to alter it.
The activity
Classroom explanation
This activity works best one to three weeks into the semester when students are comfortable with one another but not yet extremely familiar with each another. To begin the
activity, briefly review the terms initial, derived, and terminal credibility. Remind the
class that initial credibility is their first impression based upon the first weeks of class,
derived credibility is their impression during the mini-presentation, and finally terminal
credibility is the culmination of their initial and derived credibility. Then ask all students
to prepare a brief one- to two-minute edifying personal story that can be serious, humorous, or embarrassing. My students have presented stories about embarrassing moments in
elementary school, traffic accidents, family events, parties, roommates, and even serious
events. Remind them that the story itself is not graded, but the storytelling needs structure
for clarity and must include the following: a one- to two-sentence introduction, a clearly
articulated story, and a one- to two-sentence conclusion that includes the edifying point or
moral. Just before starting, remind the students again that the storytelling is the vehicle for
collecting initial impression information and no one is graded; the students always like
that aspect.
Instructor directions
Divide the students into two groups by having the students number themselves as a 1 or a
2. Count the number of students in each group and announce that each student should
take “X” number of student critique forms. Students should take one less critique form
than the number of students in each group because they will not be critiquing themselves.
To speed along the distribution of forms, the instructor can staple the critique forms into
groups of 10 and then add or subtract as needed in the distribution.
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Student critique form
Speaking Credibility Assignment
Prepared by ____________________
Student Speaker: ___________________ Student Evaluator: _______________
Directions: Ultimately, student speakers will receive your comments. Nevertheless, be
honest but kind. Provide helpful information that will both encourage the speaker and
provide insight as to what needs to be altered in order to become better communicators.
Answers need not be complete sentences. However, the phrases must make sense. Also,
please write legibly.
Initial credibility and reason(s) why:
Derived credibility and reason(s) why:
Terminal credibility and reason(s) why:
When photocopying, space the form so that you can get two forms per page. Also,
require that students sign the form so that they are accountable for what they say and
can be asked questions following the return of the student critiques.
Speech directions
Explain that group 1 will evaluate only the other people in group 1, and group 2 will evaluate only those in group 2. This approach allows half the audience to listen to the speaker.
At the beginning of each student’s turn, the student walks to the front of the room, writes
his/her name on the board under group 1 or 2, and waits about one minute while his/her
group members record their impressions of initial credibility, as well as reasons for those
impressions. Next, the student tells his/her story (1–2 minutes). Stories can be shorter than
one to two minutes; the length of the story is not the point of the activity. During the story,
group members will record their impressions of the student’s derived credibility and again
provide a reason for their assessment. Finally, at the conclusion of each student’s story,
group members will write both their impressions of terminal credibility and their
reasons. Lastly, each group member signs the form and passes them to the end of the
row for instructor pickup. Remind the students that they do not have much time for thinking and writing. This is a quick impression that they are recording.
While the first group is finishing their critiques, ask the second speaker to go forward so
that the next group can be writing their initial credibility perceptions in order to expedite
the process. Collect the critiques after each student’s story so that the forms are primarily
sorted by the end of the activity.
After class, read all the student critiques. If any student critiques are inappropriate,
discard them. However, in all my years of utilizing this activity, I have discarded only
one or two critiques. In fact, most student comments are both supportive and insightful
and often state what I would tell the student myself, but most importantly, these critiques
have the impact of coming from other students. Once the student critiques are reviewed,
collated, and stapled, return them during the next class. Allow a few minutes at the beginning of class so that students can read their critiques; they want to know what their classmates have written about them.
Downloaded by [University of Florida] at 02:29 25 October 2017
Ask students to answer the questions below as either a written assignment or as prompts
for in-class discussion:
1. Were your initial, derived, and terminal credibility student observations the same,
similar, or different? If different, describe the differences.
2. Did the student observations match your own self-perceptions? If not, please state why
you think they are different.
3. Would you like to change how the other students perceived you?
4. If you desire to change how you are perceived, how would you change your initial,
derived, or terminal credibility?
5. How can this information be helpful in other classes, interviews, and future
While not a direct measure of student impressions, this activity does provide a gentle but
valuable insight into student classroom impressions, and student response to this activity
has been very positive. Not only do students enjoy the activity itself, they also enjoy learning about themselves through the eyes of their classmates. A few years ago, after a student
had received her collated student critiques, she approached me and commented that some
of the students had evaluated her as “shy” but then “confident” after listening to her story.
She wondered what to do about it. I asked her if she wanted to change that initial
impression or if she was content to be “shy” and then surprise people that she was a
good speaker. She seemed to realize that she had options in her initial credibility. Such
realizations can be very powerful and important to students not only for the classroom
but also for interviews and future employment. Consequently, I regularly utilize this
activity. Ultimately, students themselves must decide what they will do with this knowledge, but I am gratified that they now have knowledge of their initial, derived, and terminal credibility.
References and suggested readings
Barrick, M. R., Dustin, S. L., Giluk, T. L., Stewart, G. L., Shaffer, J. A., & Swider, B. W. (2012).
Candidate characteristics driving initial impressions during rapport building: Implications for
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employment interview validity. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 85(2),
330–352. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8325.2011.02036.x
McCroskey, J. C. (2006). An introduction to rhetorical communication (9th ed.). Boston, MA:
McCroskey, J. C., & Mehrley, R. S. (1969). The effects of disorganization and nonfluency on attitude
change and source credibility. Speech Monographs, 36(1), 13–21. doi:10.1080/
McCroskey, J. C., & Richmond, V. P. (1976). The effects of communication apprehension on the
perception of peers. Western Speech Communication, 40(1), 14–21. doi:10.1080/
Sprague, J. (1993). Why teaching works: The transformative power of pedagogical communication.
Communication Education, 42(4), 349–366. doi:10.1080/03634529309378951
Swider, B. W., Barrick, M. R., & Harris, T. B. (2016). Initial impressions: What they are, what they
are not, and how they influence structured interview outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology,
101(5), 625–638. doi:10.1037/apl0000077
Tompkins, P. K., & Samovar, L. A. (1964). An experimental study of the effects of credibility on the
comprehension of content. Speech Monographs, 31(2), 120–123. doi:10.1080/
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