What is Communications Studies?

At its core, communications is the use of messages to generate meaning, both within and across a myriad of cultures, contexts, channels, and media. Through the effective practice of communications, we are able to improve cultural, social, personal, and professional experiences, whether between individual, enterprises or even nations.

The effective and ethical practice of communications through language, behaviors, sounds, words, and symbols is vital to the advancement of a civilized society. It allows us to reach mutual understandings and overcome barriers in political settings, social movements, and our everyday lives. It advances culture, facilitates business, changes perceptions, and provides insight—and that’s just the beginning.

Upon examination it becomes clear that communications is much more sophisticated and complex than it seems on the surface, and its relevance in nearly every aspect of our lives will continue to inspire analysis and study.

What is Communications Studies?

According to the National Communication Association, communication is a diverse discipline relevant to social scientists, cultural studies scholars, and humanists alike.

As a mode of intellectual inquiry, communication studies seeks to understand political, cultural, and social processes, create meaning and organize behavior. The study of communications cultivates our critical thinking and speaking/writing skills, and it allows us to comprehend and adapt to a changing world. Communications studies provide us with a human perspective on the near endless expressions of social interaction.

Our ever-expanding quest to understand how we communicate has resulted in a number of areas of study within communications:

  • Applied Communication: The study of communications theory, research, and best practices geared toward communication for practical purposes
  • Communication Education: The study of communications in the classroom or similar pedagogical contexts
  • Communication Theory: The study of how communications impacts human social interaction
  • Electronic Media: The study of forms of media, including radio, television, media technology, and web design, among others
  • Health Communication: The study of communication in regards to health education and the work of health professionals
  • International and Intercultural Communication: The study of communication across cultures
  • Interpersonal Communication: The study of communication behaviors in personal relationships
  • Language and Social Interaction: The study of verbal and nonverbal behaviors in social interactions
  • Legal Communication: The study of communications in the legal system
  • Mass Communication and Media Literacy: The study of mass communication (e.g., print, radio, television, etc.)
  • Mediation and Dispute Resolution: The study of interpersonal, intrapersonal, and intergroup situations
  • Organizational Communication: The study of how organizations analyze communication and social interaction
  • Performance Studies: The study of components within the communications discipline (e.g., text, audience, performers, etc.)
  • Political Communication: The study of communications in political systems
  • Public Address: The study of speakers and speeches
  • Public Relations: The study of communications between an organization and its audiences
  • Rhetorical Criticism: Analyzing and evaluating rhetorical artifacts
  • Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication: The study of communications in relation to philosophical frameworks
  • Small Group Communication: The study of communications among three or more persons who have a common purpose and influence each other
  • Speech Communication: The study of speech and human symbolic interaction
  • Theater and Drama: The study and production of dramatic literature
  • Visual Communication: The study of visual data (e.g., architecture, photography, advertising, film, etc.) as it relates to communication

There are many types of terms used when describing the study of communications within a business or organization:

  • Internal communications: Communication within the business
  • External communications: Communication between a business and outside individuals/organizations/businesses
  • Vertical communications: Communication between members of a business or organization at different levels of hierarchy
  • Horizontal communications: Communication between members of a business or organization at the same level of hierarchy

Internal communications within a business include:

  • Maintaining and improving the morale of employees
  • Giving orders to workers
  • Prescribing methods and procedures
  • Announcing policies and organizational changes
  • Informing management

External communications within a business include:

  • Selling and obtaining goods and services
  • Reporting to the government and shareholders on the business’ financial condition and operations
  • Creating a favorable climate for conducting business

The Essential Components of Communication

Communication is a continuous, two-way process, which includes a message that must be conveyed through a medium to a recipient. The recipient must understand the message and respond within a specific time frame. Therefore, communication studies involve a process that can be broken down into a series of essential components, which include:

Source: The source is the person who imagines, creates, and sends the message.

Message: The message is the stimulus or meaning produced by the source for the receiver or audience.

Channel: The channel is the way in which a message travels between the source and the receiver.

Receiver: The receiver receives the message from the source and analyzes and interprets the message—both intended and unintended—from the source.

Feedback: Feedback is the verbal and/or nonverbal response to a message.

Environment: The environment is the physical and psychological aspects of the communication’s context.

Context: Context involves the setting, scene, and expectations of the individuals involved.

Interference: Interference is anything that blocks or changes the source’s intended meaning of the message.

Resources for Communication Studies

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