Encyclopedia of Communication Theory Definitions of Communication

Contributors: Author:Thomas M. Steinfatt Edited by: Stephen W. Littlejohn & Karen A. Foss Book Title: Encyclopedia of Communication Theory Chapter Title: "Definitions of Communication" Pub. Date: 2009 Access Date: October 28, 2020 Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc. City: Thousand Oaks Print ISBN: 9781412959377 Online ISBN: 9781412959384 DOI: Print pages: 296-299

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The central thrust of human communication concerns mutually understood symbolic exchange. This entry considers the purpose and form of definitions, and the function of message, source, receiver, and channel considerations in defining the term communication. It discusses the consequences of different definitions of communication for the meaningful use of the term.

Characteristics of Definitions

Broad versus Narrow

The term communication is commonly used in both broad and narrow senses, from simple human contact to technical uses as in information theory. Defining communication broadly, perhaps as the transfer of information, provides the advantage of including most or all the possible instances that the term communication might ever be used to reference.

This large number of possibilities will also include many actual instances that the user likely neither intended nor had in mind. Overly broad definitions are not “wrong,” but in many cases their breadth precludes their utility in delineating the area under study. Related problems are encountered when definitions become too narrow, thereby excluding portions of what is …