What is Communication?

  • Understand the complexities inherent in communication situations so you can better navigate writing tasks.

Communication involves an exchange of information (see A Primer to Information Literacy.).

People communicate via a variety of semiotic systems, including language, mathematics, music, computer coding. Writing Commons is chiefly concerned with written language, particularly the activity of composing English in alphabetic texts.

Our ability to communicate shapes our vision of what is possible and who we are (see Why Does Writing (or Public Speaking Matter?).


At Writing Commons, we view communication to be the outcomes of complex, organicrecursive, rhetorical, psychosocial processes.

Communication is a complex process:

By complex, we mean that to inform, entertain, or persuade,

  • people use symbols (e.g., alphabetic text, numerical data, visual data) to translate thoughts and feelings into language.
    • writers, readers, and listeners don’t always always share the same interpretations about what the symbols mean. There is often a gap between the word (signifier) and the meaning of the word (signified). 
      • For instance, imagine your doctor tells you that you need minor surgery. Well, for you the upcoming medical procedure may not minor or routine. 
  • people employ linear and nonlinear writing spaces. Whereas traditional media (articles, books, newspapers) present writing in a linear format, hypertext and multimodal compositions permit layering via hyperlinks.
  • people may use tools such as wikis or discussion forums to co-write documents with others.
  • people employ cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies to develop and share knowledge claims (see discussion of this below)

Communication is an organic process:

By organic, we mean that 

  • Thinking, creating, and learning involve the body as well as the mind. (See discussion below and Inner Speech and Felt Sense)

Communication is a recursive process:

By recursive, we mean that 

When writing, people re-read and reconsider what they’ve written. They go back and look at words and phrases and that behavior inspires new ideas.

The process of developing and sharing knowledge claims cannot be simplified into a simple formula such as prewrite, write, revise and edit. Writing, thinking, and learning involves are cyclical. Rather than one ideal composing process that occurs in organized stages, writing is a chaotic process characterized by engaged, sustained, reflective thinking. 

For more on the the recursivity of writing processes, see

1, Composing Processes,  a 21st Century Competency-based Model
Composing Processes, Foundational Theory & Writing Pedagogy

2. What is Communication?
Writing and all that entails (e.g., communicating with friends, family, work, and the broader society; collaborating, researching, publishing, etc.) has a profound influence on our lives and societies.

Writing is a rhetorical process

By rhetorical, we mean that when people communicate

  •  they focus on their rhetorical situation: audience, purpose, context, and media
  • They appeal to Ethos, Pathos, Logos, and Exigency/Kairos.

Writing is a psychosocial process:

By psychosocial, we mean that writing involves the mind of the writer, the psychology of the writer, in response to a social situation. As we discuss at Genre, the rhetor communicates with an audience by engaging in a intersubjective space with her audience.

Here, the term intersubjective refers to what the rhetors and readers/listeners share in common. For instance, writers and readers may share an emotional response to a topic. They may share a common sense of how formal the language should be, whether citations should be used, whether anecdote is valued. Language, jargon, rituals, histories, instincts, desires, personalities, attitudes, knowledge of foundational texts–these are just a handful of the variables rhetors share with their audience in this intersubjective space.

When writers communicate with one another, they share assumptions about how language is used to convey information. They share common organizational patterns, motifs, rhetorical modes, invention methods, information literacy standards, research methods, revising strategies, and style and editing standards.