What is Communication?

The discipline of communication focuses on how people use messages to generate meanings within and across various contexts, cultures, channels, and media. The discipline promotes the effective and ethical practice of human communication.

Communication is a diverse discipline which includes inquiry by social scientists, humanists, and critical and cultural studies scholars. A body of scholarship and theory, about all forms of human communication, is presented and explained in textbooks, electronic publications, and academic journals. In the journals, researchers report the results of studies that are the basis for an ever-expanding understanding of how we all communicate.

Transactional Model of Communication  

The transactional model of communication is a graphic representation of the collaborative and ongoing message exchange between individuals, or an individual and a group of individuals, with the goal of understanding each other. A communicator encodes (e.g., puts thoughts into words and gestures), then transmits the message via a channel (e.g., speaking, email, text message) to the other communicator(s) who then decode the message (e.g., take the words and apply meaning to them). The message may encounter noise (e.g., any physical, psychological, or physiological distraction or interference), which could prevent the message from being received or fully understood as the sender intended. Click on the image to enlarge.

Areas within Communication 

Areas of emphasis differ from one institution to another, but listed below are some of the most common areas of study. For a description of all of NCA's Interest Groups, please click here.

Applied Communication - The study of how communication theory, research, and/or best practices help inform knowledge and theory about communication for practical issues. 

Communication Education - The study of communication in the classroom and other pedagogical contexts. 

Communication Theory - The study of principles that account for the impact of communication in human social interaction.

Electronic Media - The study of radio, television, media technology, and web design with streaming audio and video. 

Health Communication - The study of communication as it relates to health professionals and health education, including the study of provider-client interaction, as well as the diffusion of health information through public health campaigns.

International and Intercultural Communication - The study of communication among individuals of different cultural backgrounds, including the study of similarities and differences across cultures. 

Interpersonal Communication - The study of communication behaviors in dyads (pairs) and their impact on personal relationships.

Language and Social Interaction - The study of the structure of verbal and nonverbal behaviors occurring in social interaction.

Legal Communication - The study of the role of communication as it relates to the legal system.

Mass Communication and Media Literacy - The study of how mass forms of communication, such as print, radio and television disseminate information and influence society.

Mediation and Dispute Resolution - The study of understanding, management, and resolution of conflict within intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intergroup situations.

Organizational Communication - The study of processes used to analyze communication needs of organizations and social interaction, including how to improve communication between supervisors and employees.

Performance Studies - The study of components such as performer(s), text, audience, and context within the communication discipline. 

Political Communication - The study of the role that communication plays in political systems.

Public Address - The study of speakers and speeches, including the historical and social context of platforms, campaigns, and movements.

Public Relations - The study of the management of communication between an organization and its audiences.

Rhetorical Criticism - The process of defining, classifying, analyzing, interpreting, and/or evaluating rhetorical artifacts.

Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication - The study of philosophical frameworks and our understanding of communication, including verbal and nonverbal symbols and signs in human communication.

Small Group Communication - The study of communication systems among three or more individuals who interact around a common purpose and who influence one another.

Speech Communication - The study of the nature, processes, and effects of human symbolic interaction. While speech is the most obvious mode of communication, human symbolic interaction includes a variety of verbal and nonverbal codes.

Theatre and Drama - The study and production of dramatic literature. 

Visual Communication - The study of visual data, such as architecture, photography, visual art, advertising, film, and television as it relates to communication.