Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Encoding refers to the process of formulating a message.

explanatory context

Encoding and decoding are elements of semiological analysis. Semiology needs to take account of the context of encoding and decoding. See also Daniel Chandler Semiotics for Beginners (accessed 28 May 2017)

analytical review

The Marketing Study Guide (2013–17) has an explanation of encoding communication:

The process of communication can be understood using a model known as the ‘Encoding/Decoding’ model. The Encoding/Decoding model has several parts: source/sender, encoding, message channel, receiver, decoding and feedback. ...The process of communication begins with the ‘source’ also known as the ‘Sender’ . The source refers to the individual or group who intend to communicate an idea to their audience....When the source of the communication puts together their intended message, this is referred to as ‘Encoding’. ‘Encoding’ can be defined as transforming an abstract idea into a communicable message. This is done using words, symbols, pictures, symbols and sounds....The encoded message must now be delivered to its audience via a message channel. A message channel is a term that refers to the medium that carries the message from the sender to the receiver....Anyone who is audience to the message is referred to as the receiver. For example, all viewers of a television advertisement can be referred to as the ‘receivers’ of the message....When the receiver views or hears the message they do what is termed ‘decoding’. Decoding can be defined at the receiver interpreting the message and coming to an understanding about what the source is communicating....Feedback refers to any response the receiver offers to the message, this could be communication or behavior.


Traci Pedersen (2016):

In psychology, encoding (or memory encoding) is considered the first of three stages in the memory process. The second and third stages are storage and retrieval. In order to form a memory, the brain must process, or encode, new facts and other types of information into a storable form so that it can be recalled at a later time. There are three ways in which the brain can do this: visual coding (sight), acoustic (sound) coding and semantic (meaning) coding.

For example, when trying to remember a password, you have several options to encode the information into your memory. You could form a mental image of the number/letters in a row (visual coding), repeat it aloud over and over, perhaps in a sing-song voice (acoustic coding), or give the numbers and/or letters some type of meaning, such as “9rh” stands for “9 rabbits hopping” (semantic coding).

Finding ways to encode information is key to enhancing one’s memory. Research has shown that acoustic coding is the brain’s primary strategy for short term memory (STM), while semantic coding is the most successful strategy for long term memory (LTM).'s online glossary (n.d) has a psychology definition of encoding:

Any information which we sense and subsequently attempt to process, store, and later retrieve must be brought in through one of the senses and then transformed into some form that our bodies and minds understand. The process of breaking the information down into a form we understand is the process of encoding (and we later "decode" the information to recall it). But the process of getting into the memory system for storage and later retrieval is encoding.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Sources's online glossary, n.d, , 'Encoding', available at , accessed 28 May 2017, still available 3 June 2019.

Marketing Study Guide, 2013–17, 'The Communications Process: Encoding and Decoding', available at , accessed 28 May 2017 , still available 3 June 2019.

Pedersen, T., 2016, 'Encoding' Psych Central, available at, accessed 28 May 2017, still available 3 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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