Essay on Encoding and Decoding Concept

Published: 2021/11/11
Number of words: 3360


The encoding and decoding model of communication is an argument that was first proposed by Stuart Hall in 1973.Hall was a successful Jamaican-born (Shepherd, 2020) scholar of the British Cultural Studies (Abugu, 2020). Hall argued that the concept of language and communication was not as easy as the researchers before him proposed (Teel, 2017). He tried to create a more textual analysis and came up with the encoding and decoding model. According to Hall, the possibility of a message beingreceived exactly as it was sent is slim especially if the audience did not have anything in common.

According to Mcquail (2010), researchers should not blindly assume anything about the encoding and decoding process of communication. Proper research should be conducted first to determine the different aspects of the viewer’s background. Stuart’s encoding and decoding communication model demonstrates the flow of information from the producer to the audience. The producer is the encoder and the audience the decoder (Rodrigues, 2017). He argues that audiences are not just passive consumers of information fed to them. They are actively involved in decoding the messages they receive. The decoding of this information is influenced by their social, economic, and cultural backgrounds.

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Stuart Hall’s encoding and decoding communication model gives a theoretical approach of how messages in the media are created, dispersed, and finally interpreted by the receiver(Rodrigues, 2017).In the media, producers create content that is based on different ideas; they encode information. Encoding is defined as the process of converting thoughts and ideas into communication while decoding is considered to be turning the communication back into thoughts. Stuart argues that when the audience receives the information from the media, the way in which each one of them decodes it is different from the other. The way in which people decode information is determined by their backgrounds, their way of life, their economic status, and sometimes their experiences in life(Teel, 2017).Political allegiances, level of familiarity to the subject matter, age, ethnicity, gender, and class are also some of the factors that determine how the audience interprets the information. The different ways in which the message is decoded may end up being different from what was intended by its producer.

Stuart Hall’s communication model emphasizes the role of the producer and the audience in the different stages of communication. He divided the stages into four. The four stages are independent of each other but some determining factors of one stage may affect the possibilities of the others that follow.

The four stages of communication

  • Production stage

At this stage, the producer encodes the message(Rodrigues, 2017). Different ideologies and values are incorporated into the production of the messages. Consider a television station that is used for the advertisement of different household products. During the production of the advert, the producer will incorporate verbal and non-verbal cues such that the intended recipient is able to understand easily what is being communicated. The producers try to make the message as clear as possible but, according to Stuart, the meaning is not necessarily fixed (Teel, 2017). Due to the fact that the producer of the message uses his beliefs and ideologies in creating the message, a conflict might arise if the receiver’s ideologies do not match the producer’s.

  • Circulation stage

At the circulation stage, the process of transmitting the message is initiated. The way in which the message is transmitted to the audience affects how they receive it and whether or not they comprehend it completely. For example,the producer might prefer using some pictures to others in order to portray his message as accurately as possible. Watching the said advert on television, falls in this category.

  • Use stage

This stage includes consumption and comprehension of the message. This is where the audience decodes and interprets the messagereceived. The concept of decoding a message is mostly measured as the ability of the receiver to understand the message as intended by the producer. Active recipients are required for the complete process of decoding the message(Teel, 2017). The message received should prompt the receiver do think and do something in accordance with the message.At this stage, the receiver sees the advert, decodes what the message being put across is, interprets it, and tries to relate to it.

  • Reproduction stage

After the audience receives and interprets the message individually, what they decide to do with this information falls underthe reproduction stage. This stage is completely dependent on the audiences’ interpretation of the message. After seeing the advertisement on the television, the viewer might like the product and desire to buy it. Another viewer might see the same product and feel that the advert was not impressive at all and if anything, it went against what he/she believes in.

The decoding process

In Stuart Hall’s encoding and decoding communication argument, He implies that the receiver of the information plays a major part in the successful transmission process of a message (Teel, 2017). During the encoding process, the encoder may decide to use verbal or non-verbal ways or a mixture of the two to help the receiver on the other end to understand the intended message (Glen,2014).Hall argues that the meaning of the message is not fixed, as intended by the producer, and neither is the audience a passive recipient of the message (Ellen, 2013). The viewers will respond in different ways. Ways in which the message is received can be split into three categories.

  • Preferred response

This kind of interpretation is also referred to as the dominant response. In this case, the viewer agrees with the producer’s message.He/she accepts the message fully without questioning it.This occurs when the viewer is able to decode the message correctly. This is considered a success as the intended message gets to the viewer. This often happens when the message is clear and precise or the audience is of the targeted audience and can relate to the message.

If the advert created by the producer was about a perfume brand and they used young and attractive female models too, young women and girls might relate to the advert and understand the message without any questions asked. Perhaps the message of the advert could be that wearing the perfume boosts their confidence and makes them more attractive.

  • Negotiated response

This kind of interpreting the message is in between dominant and oppositional response. In this case, neither does the viewer agree nor disagree with the message. They, however, acknowledge the message the producer is trying to put across but try to mold it into something that they relate to better. This mostly happens when the viewer can understand the message but does not relate to it.

Taking the perfume example, younger men and boys might be drawn to the model’s beauty. They will understand that wearing perfume makes her more confident and attractive. This shows that they understand the message. After that, they will try and reason that if they bought the product for say a friend, boosting her confidence will make them likable.

  • Oppositional response

This kind of interpretation occurs when the viewer completely disagrees with the message they are receiving. Their interpretation of the message differs from what the producer intended. They, therefore, change the whole meaning of the message and create their own. This considered being a negative response. This kind of response occurs when the viewer’s beliefs and culture differ from those implied in the message so they end up not understanding the message.

Using the same perfume example suppose it is aired in a rural place that believes in being conservative and have never seen perfume. To them, the advert will look like a female model is being disrespectful to herself. They might conclude that she lacks self-dignity and seeks it from approval from men and looking admirable to them.

This clearly shows how the same message from the producer to advertise the perfume ends up being interpreted differently depending on culture, sex, and familiarity with the object of discussion.

Comparison to other active audiences’ theories

David Morley and the Nationwide audience study

David Morley researched on matters affecting the media. He studied television audiences and cultural studies. His research, however, focused on how class and differences in culture affect how television messages are perceived by viewers (Kim, 2010). His profound statistical methods showed clear decoding patterns.

Nationwide was a television program that was available between 1969-1983. In the Nationwide research that David Morley undertook together with Charlotte Brunsdon was between the late 1970s and early1980s. He studied how media messages are created, spread, and eventually interpreted. To collect accurate data, Morley showed two programs from Nationwide to different students from different backgrounds. For about 30 minutes (Dworkin, Wernet and Dervin, 1999). The students had different levels of education, they had different social and cultural backgrounds and were from different parts of the country.

Structured polysemy

Polysemy is the concept where one word can be interpreted to mean different things. Structured polysemy, therefore, can be said to be the use of media to target a certain interpretation of a message. With the Stuart Hall’s argument, it is evident that one message can be decoded in different ways depending on the receiver. Other studies prove the existence of structured polysemy.

In his findings, Morley deduced that people with different backgrounds received and interpreted messages from media differently.

The three categories of audiences.

He also concluded on the three ways people received the information, that is, dominant, negotiated, and oppositional (Nguyen, 2013). Morley’s research made similar conclusions to Hall’s theory of encoding and decoding.

Osgood-Schramm model of communication

This model shows that communication as a circular model (Drew, 2020). The encoder, the first time, could be the decoder the second time round. Communication in this model occurs in two directions. The model also shows that there are three distinct steps of communication, that is, encoding, decoding and interpreting (Drew, 2020). These communication model differs with Hall’s theory.

  • Linearity

Stuart’s study implies that communication is a one-way process; the information comes from the source and is transmitted to the recipient. In the actual sense though, communication is more of a cycle, and roles switch from source to receiver (Williamson, 2014).In Osgood’s model, communication is circular and the people involved can be both the sender and reciver.

  • Making meaning

Stuart’s process implies that after the message is encoded by the sender and transmitted, the receiver only needs to decode the information they are receiving to get the intended message. However, though, the study done to correct some errors on Stuart’s encoding and decoding communication model emphasizes that the message needs to be properly analyzed and interpreted. There is a need for an active receiver who is actively trying to find the meaning of the message. The following factors may affect how the receiver will make meaning of the information they are receiving.

  • Intention

The intention of the source of information affects the mode of interaction. For instance, the interaction between a trader who is trying to sell their product is going to give off a different vibe compared to someone who is trying to be intimate with someone else. The two could use the same word, which will be decoded the same way but mean totally different things. It is necessary to deduce the intention of the sender first in order to get accurate information from their message.

  • Context

The context in which something is said affects the manner in which the message communicated. People often insist on knowing what was happening first before something was said so that they can include the context and understand what the message was intended to mean. For example, using the phrase ‘go to hell’ can be a curse in contemporary life or if in a church setting. While at church, this could be condemning someone or something evil to hell. The context makes a difference in how the same words are interpreted.

  • Relationship

The relationship between the sender and the receiver also affects the meaning of the message. Consider an inside joke between two close friends. If one of them made the joke in front of other people, they may decode the message said but fail to understand the joke but the other friend will. How you relate with someone also dictates how you address them. While casually talking to a friend, they understand that some of the conversations are just banter. This shows that decoding the message is incomplete without thoroughly thinking through the meaning of the message.

In Osgood’s model, he insists on interpretation as part of the communication process (Drew, 2020). The meaning of the message can be lost in between transmission and semantic barriers could also be an issue.

  •     Current forms of media

This is another weakness of the communication method. By the time Stuart proposed his encoding and decoding communication method, the most common form of media was television hence his target audience. Times have changed and the media world has grown. Today’s media is inclusive of online platforms (Ellen, 2013). There are different networking platforms online like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, among others that are also forms of media. Stuart’s study would not be of much relevance now especially to the younger generation. People now are aware of the dynamics of communication between the producer and the receiver. They include this while marketing or advertising their products online.The ‘everyday’ audiences help in the growth and development of media. It also helps with the growth of the receiver. They are in better positions to interpret content online as it is intended. It also makes them more diverse and open to different ideas.


Stuart’s communication model on encoding and decoding of messages is important especially in today’s world where there is a variety in modes of commination. Some messages put out there for people’s consumption are not scrutinized by relevant bodies and might be harmful to the consumer. The recipient of the information could be in a position of being exploited by the sender. They could also end up being influenced negatively. It is important that the viewer correctly decodes the message and understands the intention of the sender.Stuart Hall’s theory is useful in marketing. While creating adverts, it should be important to them to be inclusive of the diversity of their intended customers. They should create content that does not discriminate against other groups based on age, sex, culture, religion, and any other defining factor.

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This information is not only relevant to people in media but the whole public as a whole. It is wise to understand that not every bit of information put out there will portray the intended meaning. Someone could say something out of the goodness of their hearts but the person on the receiving end might take it to mean something different. When saying something, which might be taken out of context, consider the fact that not everyone reasons the same way, and different cultures and backgrounds provoke different reasoning and understanding of the same message. It is important to be aware and consider all these facts while communicating with people.

In the world we live in today, people fight for their rights more and stand up for what they believe in. There is a diversity of cultures everywhere and needs that extra effort to make everyone feel included. Some comments might seem normal to the person speaking but offensive to the listener. Stuart hall’s theory shows how messages can mean something different depending on the receiver.


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