What is a Speech Communication and Rhetoric Degree?

Degree programs in speech communication and rhetoric are about more than learning how to persuade people to see your side of things and consider your viewpoint.

The curriculum explores interpersonal, organizational, intercultural, and mass communication. It spans the art of persuasion, public speaking, the psychology of communication, and verbal and nonverbal communications through media and in person. It teaches how certain messages influence individual and group behavior and why and how our reactions reflect the underlying values of society. It summons those who love language, who choose their words carefully, and who know that compelling speech relies on attentive listening.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communication and Rhetoric – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, students learn the fundamentals of the human communication process. Components of the typical curriculum include communication theory and practice, argumentation and advocacy, communication in organizations and healthcare settings, international and intercultural communication, digital communication and social media, and media production.

Here are sample core courses that may be part of a bachelor’s program in speech communication and rhetoric:

  • Introduction to Communication Studies – theories and methodological approaches in communication studies; communication and ethical reasoning within social, political, and economic institutions
  • Public Speaking – choosing and researching a topic, organizing and delivering a speech, handling speech anxiety, listening critically, and adapting language to an audience
  • Communication Research Methods – overview of the concepts, methods, tools, and ethics of communication research; reading, interpreting, and evaluating research reports
  • Persuasion and Rhetoric – classical and contemporary theories of persuasion; how persuasion is used in everyday language, nonverbal communication, sales techniques, politics and propaganda; ethical issues in persuasion
  • Communication Theory – how our cultural assumptions inform and shape our ability to communicate; contexts explored include popular culture, social media and online content, organizational communication, and interpersonal interactions
  • Principles of Organizational Communication – the communication process in organizations and how to improve it; the evolution of organizational communication, communication networks, information management, and communication climate
  • Communication in a Digital Age – how to become an effective online communicator; email filtering, online collaboration, and writing in a Web markup format; online privacy, gender and racial bias, marketplace credibility, and fraud
  • Sex, Relationships, and Communication – the role of communication in interpersonal attraction, relationship development, relationship maintenance, and relationship dissolution
  • Global and Intercultural Communication – negotiating cultural differences and understanding intercultural contact in societies and institutions
  • Communication and Gender – a theoretical and practical examination of the ways in which communication is gendered in various contexts
  • Communication Law – exploration of the interplay between the First Amendment and personal and professional responsibilities; topics include copyright, defamation, free press, hate speech, incitement, obscenity, and threats; related ethical issues
  • Free Speech in Cyberspace – how law and policy shape the development and use of new communication technologies; how new technologies challenge existing law and policy
  • Mobile Communication – the impact that mobile hardware and software have on society, culture, and politics
  • Health Communication – patient-provider communication, organizational systems, advertising in the health industry, how media creates expectations about health, the use of media to promote social change
  • Interpersonal Communication – definitions of the communication process, identity, self-disclosure, verbal and nonverbal language, listening, and management of interpersonal conflict
  • Communication and Inclusion – communication and inclusion in the contexts of gender, race, sexual identity, social class, ability, and age
  • Political Communication – the construction and influence of rhetoric in political campaigns, particularly contemporary presidential campaigns; the impact of mass communication on the outcome of elections
  • Great Speakers and Speeches – analysis of significant speeches throughout history
  • Communication Criticism – thinking critically about and analyzing various forms of texts, such as speeches, advertisements, music, and art
  • Free Speech: Law and Practice – the philosophy of freedom, historical legal cases about free speech and the press, political correctness, repression of dissent
  • Communication and Sexualities – examination of the ways in which sexualities intersect with issues relating to interpersonal communication, mediated communication, popular culture, identity, and social movements; topics covered include outing, media representations, queer identity development, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic
  • Theories of Conflict and Negotiation – theories of conflict and strategies for managing conflict in interpersonal relationships, organizational settings, and society at large
  • Communication, Politics, and Social Change – examination of the role of race, gender, and sexual identity in American politics and public discourse
  • Nonverbal Social Interaction – insight on methods people use to communicate different types of social action through body language; how body language is used to start new relationships and communicate anger, frustration, happiness, and grief
  • Youth and Communication Technology – how communication technologies and the content they deliver affect the social, emotional, and cognitive development of young people; how these changes are influenced by family, school, and community
  • Crisis Communication and Image Management – theories, models, and strategies related to crisis communication; developing effective crisis communication plans
  • Health Communication Campaigns – how persuasive health campaigns are designed to influence awareness, increase knowledge, and prompt attitude and behavior change
  • Communication and Quality of Life – how an understanding of the function of communication relates to quality of life
  • Online Communities – what it means to develop and maintain a successful online community; how this relates to topics such as human behavior, identity, and online communication
  • Communication Capstone – a research and writing project related to the field of strategic communication; possible topics from business, politics, advocacy, entertainment, public health, the environment, and other sectors

Master’s Degree in Speech Communication and Rhetoric – Two Year Duration
Many master’s degree programs in speech communication and rhetoric are designed for professionals already working in the field. The graduate curriculum provides students with opportunities to broaden their understanding of communication as human activity and enhance their abilities to be leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators in the workplace. Master’ students complete research projects and a thesis.

These are some of the learning outcomes associated with a master’s program in speech communication and rhetoric:

  • Knowledge of the fundamental and advanced concepts related to human communication and interaction and an ability to communicate successfully both orally and in written form
  • The ability to use computer-mediated technology to manage the processes required to retrieve and distribute information
  • Knowledge of the mass media and the information society, including information technology, telecommunications, public policy, publishing, and the cultural industries
  • Knowledge of government, social, and business organizations and an understanding of how the exchange of information is fundamental to their operation
  • An understanding of the management of communication industries and of internal and external corporate communications (public relations, advertising, marketing)
  • An understanding of culture, international and intercultural communication, negotiation and conflict management; an ability to communicate effectively in diverse and difficult circumstances

To achieve these leaning outcomes master’s students take advanced courses in areas such as:

  • Academic Integrity and Plagiarism
  • Communication Theory
  • Research Process in Communication
  • Strategic Digital Communication
  • Communication, Culture, Media, and Technology
  • Communication and Culture in Organizations
  • Media Production
  • Conflict Analysis and Management
  • Communication for Development and Social Change
  • Communication for Sustainability and Conservation Issues
  • Communication Policy, Politics, and Law
  • Organizational Design, Communication, and Knowledge Management
  • Organizational Culture Development

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Skills You’ll Learn

Speech communication and rhetoric graduates come away from their studies with these useful skills:

  • Ability to absorb and summarize new information quickly
  • Ability to disseminate information accurately
  • Ability to learn on the job
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • Attention to detail
  • Clear, concise, and creative writing
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Digital literacy
  • Ethics
  • Media and marketing savvy
  • Objectivity and logical reasoning
  • Organization
  • Problem-solving
  • Public speaking
  • Research

What Can You Do with a Speech Communication and Rhetoric Degree?

Potential careers and job titles for speech communication and rhetoric graduates include:

Employers of speech communication and rhetoric grads include:

  • Advertising agencies
  • Colleges / universities
  • Entertainment industry
  • Government agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Industrial firms
  • Law offices
  • Marketing / retail firms
  • Media industry
  • Political organizations and campaigns
  • Private corporations
  • Public relations firms
  • Research firms
  • Social services agencies
  • Volunteer / non-profit agencies


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