a medium fits with a task

History and Orientation

Media richness theory is based on contingency theory and information processing theory (Galbraith 1977). First proponents of the theory were made by Daft & Lengel (1984).

Core Assumptions and Statements

Core: Researchers Daft, Lengel and successors propose that communication media have varying capacities for resolving ambiguity, negotiating varying interpretations, and facilitating understanding.

Two main assumptions of this theory are: people want to overcome equivocality and uncertainty in organizations and a variety of media commonly used in organizations work better for certain tasks than others. Using four criteria, Daft and Lengel present a media richness hierarchy, arranged from high to low degrees of richness, to illustrate the capacity of media types to process ambiguous communication in organizations. The criteria are (a) the availability of instant feedback; (b) the capacity of the medium to transmit multiple cues such as body language, voice tone, and inflection; (c) the use of natural language; and (d) the personal focus of the medium. Face-to-face communication is the richest communication medium in the hierarchy followed by telephone, electronic mail, letter, note, memo, special report, and finally, flier and bulletin. From a strategic management perspective, the media richness theory suggests that effective managers make rational choices matching a particular communication medium to a specific task or objective and to the degree of richness required by that task (Trevino, Daft, & Lengel, 1990, in Soy, 2001).

Conceptual Model


Media richness model
Source: Suh (1999)

Favorite Methods

Content analysis.

Scope and Application

All sorts of media.


To be added.


Key publications

  • Daft, R.L. & Lengel, R.H. (1984). Information richness: a new approach to managerial behavior and organizational design. In: Cummings, L.L. & Staw, B.M. (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior 6, (191-233). Homewood, IL: JAI Press.
  • Daft, R.L. & Lengel, R.H. (1986). Organizational information requirements, media richness and structural design. Management Science 32(5), 554-571.
  • Daft, R.L., Lengel, R.H., & Trevino, L.K. (1987). Message equivocality, media selection, and manager performance: Implications for information systems. MIS Quarterly, 355-366.
  • Galbraith, J. (1977). Organization Design. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Lengel, R.H. & Daft, R.L. (1988). The Selection of Communication Media as an Executive Skill. Academy of Management Executive, 2(3), 225-232.
  • Rice, R. & Shook, D. (1990). Relationships of Job Categories and Organizational Levels to Use of Communication Channels, including Electronic Mail: A Meta-Analysis and Extension. Journal of Management Studies, 27, 195-229.
  • Suh, K.S. (1999). Impact of communication medium on task performance and
  • satisfaction: an examination of media-richness theory. Information & Management, 35, 295-312.
  • Trevino, L.K., Lengel, R.K. & Daft, R.L. (1987). Media Symbolism, Media Richness and media Choice in Organizations. Communication Research, 14(5), 553-574.
  • Trevino, L., Lengel, R., Bodensteiner, W., Gerloff, E. & Muir, N. (1990). The richness imperative and cognitive style: The role of individual differences in media choice behavior. Management Communication Quarterly, 4(2).

See also Mass Media, Organizational Communication