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Self-Guided Tutorial in Communications

Welcome to the Self-Guided Tutorial in Communications.  Here you will find useful information and a general and effective approach to pursuing your research in many topics concerning Communications.  Communications is a very broad field covering many different disciplines and methodologies.  Since human communication is so complex, there are many approaches to choosing wisely your research topic and then, as many approaches to researching and writing a good paper or speech.  Following the principles out-lined in this tutorial, you should be successful in producing a sound paper or oral presentation.

Communication Studies covers many specialties: advertising, mass communication, journalism, public relations, organizational communication, inter-personal communication, among others.  It is important to know that different topics may require different approaches to finding materials for your research.

Communications reflects both the social sciences and the humanities:

Social Sciences and the Humanities

Pursuing Research For Your Communication Paper Or Oral Presentation:

Before you start on an assignment, it is very important to have a good topic or project in mind.  A topic that interests you is vital to a sound final project.  The following steps to successful research can help you achieve a good final result:

    Select Topic:
Establish your hypothesis

Perform Literature Review:
Explore what has been done on your topic

Choose & Establish Methods:
Decide on what techniques you will use

 Refine Your Topic and Adjust for Changes:
Different Approaches yield different results

Carry Out Your Research:
Execute approach, collect data, pursue analysis

 Writing Paper or Presentation:
Finalize project

Paper or Presentation Complete

The basic structure of a research paper that is used throughout the social sciences and in many other disciplines is one that is clear and simple to follow.  In Communication, papers follow the same general structure as those in most social sciences with slight variations.   Each section builds upon the former and clarifies your procedure and argument.

Schematic of a research paper:

I.  Problem or topic to be pursued
Generally a hypothesis is tested.  Here the importance and purpose of your research is presented.   Why it is important to undertake and why you are undertaking it. 

II. Literature Review
This section of your paper places your research within the greater scope of   previous research.  Here, you actually refer to and acknowledge other's efforts and explain where your work fits   within the wider context of knowledge in your particular area. Remember that this section need not be comprehensive, only pertinent to your research.

III. Methodology
This critical section explains to your readers or listeners just how you pursued your work.   Here, you outline your should ideally include method, i.e. content analysis, or survey. Target population, or media explored, who collected and tabulated the data, and what steps were taken to assure credible and reliable results.  This section may vary depending upon what approaches and techniques are involved.

IV.  Results
This section contains what you actually found, your data is presented and discussed in terms of how it fits with your attempt. 

V. Discussion and Conclusion
Here, you discuss the findings of your research within the wider contextual framework of previous research undertaken by others.  Questions of how your research compares to those reported in earlier research and how your results may have corroborated or not previous work are discussed.  Any variation needs to be mentioned and any possible concerns offered, including any problems encountered and, or limitations.   Setting your research in context with other published research is vital to a successful research undertaking.  Recommendations for further research on a particular point or phenomenon not addressed, or yet to be considered embeds your research within the greater context of knowledge formation.

Naturally, ComAbstracts is the database most often searched for research articles.  For many of the defined communication topics, this well-known database is the most commonly used.  But often, your  topic is  not so easily defined as being firmly placed within communication research and indexed in ComAbstracts.

Depending on your topic, you may have to search among several databases to find pertinent articles.  For instance, if you are interested in persuasion, mass media, and the electoral process, all within the specialized area of Political Communication, you have a number of options to choose from.  You could go to Academic Search FullText Elite or Proquest Research Library for full text articles, or the more specialized PAIS International for research and popular literature in political science.  Sometimes a more specialized index can lead you to more critical research because these indexes actually concentrate on specific disciplines and areas of research and scholarship.   SocioFile and ERIC are good examples.  Here, you will find most materials exclusively devoted to those areas of interest that deal with sociology and society in general or, as in the case of ERIC, with issues and topics across education. 

The most pertinent online indexes at Purdue that may offer relevant publications are:

Academic Search FullText EliteUniversal index with fulltext option

Accunet/AP Photo Archive (News photos from 1840's to today): Excellent source for photographs

AgeLine (AARP): Gerontology & aging issues

America: History and LifeCovers all U.S. history & culture

Art IndexGood for visual communication

ARTbibliographies ModernGood for 20th c. visual communication

Arts and Humanities Citation IndexAll purpose non-science index

Biography and Genealogy Master Index: People's bios

(Wilson) Business Abstracts:  Covers all business areas  (use OmniFile)

Business Source Premier:  Provides fulltext business articles

Child Abuse and NeglectExcellent for child studies & social work

Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO)Many fulltext options

ComAbstractsMajor index for communication

Criminal Law ReporterGood for latest crime & legal info

Current Index to StatisticsGuide to statistics materials

Dissertation AbstractsSource for finding theses & dissertations

Dow Jones Interactive:  Business news, newspapers, magazines

EconLitEconomics research and media economics, etc.

(Wilson) Education:  All subjects in education studies (use OmniFile)

The Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850 -1920: Multimedia history

ERICThe education index for all subjects

Ethnic NewsWatchExcellent source for current ethnic resources

Family & Society Studies WorldwideSource for family studies, etc.

Family Law ReporterLegal materials on family affairs

FRANCIS (International Humanities and Social Studies)Global index

GPO AccessAll purpose government publications source

GPO IndexSearch online for government resources

HAPI: Hispanic American Periodicals IndexFor Hispanic life & culture

Health Source PlusKey source for health info

Historical AbstractsNon-U.S. historical research

HRAF Collection of Ethnography (eHRAF)Info on world's cultures

(Wilson) Humanities AbstractsGeneral index for humanities (use OmniFile)

Index to Legal Periodicals and BooksIndex for many legal articles (For fulltext only use OmniFile)

International Index to Black PeriodicalsExcellent for articles

Lexis-Nexis Academic UniverseExcellent legal database -fulltext

MedLine: Technical medical index

MLA International BibliographyThe multi-lingual literature index

NewsBank NewsFileNews resource on all subjects

Newspaper SourceSelected newspapers, fulltext

OmniFile Full Text MegaRepresents all Wilson indexes

PAIS InternationalExcellent index for political subjects

PCI Periodicals Contents Index (Indexes more than 3,000 Journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences from 1770 to the present.)Retrospective index in diverse fields

Philosophers IndexExcellent for rhetoric, theory, & philosophy

Proquest Research Library: Fulltext articles in many disciplines

PsycINFOPsychological research, interpersonal

(Wilson) Reader's Guide: Good for popular articles and reviews (Use OmniFile)

Social Sciences Citation IndexAll purpose for social sciences

(Wilson) Social Sciences AbstractsFulltext for social sciences (Use OmniFile)

SocioFile:  The sociological index

Statistical Universe: Excellent statistics resource in many fields

Web of Science(ISI Citation Indexes)Global indexes

Using Communication And Other Journals For Your Research:

Communication is very dependent upon journals for the transmission of research and scholarship.  Communication research emulates the social science pattern of publication where journal research articles are more critical and timely than books, where more seasoned research appears in monographs. Search E-Journals offered by Purdue University.

Selected Communication Research Journals Available Through Purdue's THOR:

General Communication:

Applied Communication Research
Communication Theory
Communication Research
The Howard Journal of Communication
Journal of Communication
Theory, Culture, and Society


Journalism Monographs
Newspaper Research Journal
Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media
Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly
Mass Communication and Society

Speech, Communication and Rhetoric:

Communication Quarterly
Communication Studies
Human Communication Research
Southern Communication Journal
Western Journal of Speech Communication

Special Interest:

Asian journal of Communication
Business Communication Quarterly
European Journal of Communication
Journal of Communication and Religion
The Journal of Media Economics
Political Communication
Technical Communication
Women's Studies in Communication

Public Relations:

Journal of Advertising
Journal of Advertising Research
Public Relations Journal
Public Relations Quarterly
Public Relations Research Annual
Public Relations Review

Interdisciplinary Journals:

Journal of Nonverbal Behavior
Philosophy & Rhetoric

These journals are representative of what is available at Purdue--there are many other relevant journals that have bearing on your research.  Databases covering such disciplines as history, political science, economics, psychology, modern languages may index useful articles and even books for your topic.  Keep in mind: Communication is an interdisciplinary field that crosses many disciplines.  When choosing a specific topic, think in terms that allow for latitude--topics may be researched by many disciplines.

Think in terms of your specific topic and then imagine where such topics might be researched in humanities and social sciences journals.   Utilizing indexes is the most efficient approach possible to retrieve the most pertinent and relevant articles critical to your topic. The following examples may be modified according to the number of variables or factors you include.

Remember: ComAbstracts should be considered as your primary index, complemented by others, depending upon your specific research topic:  Academic Search FullText Elite[Academic Search Elite] and Proquest Research Library, and Wilson OmniFiles contain fulltext articles and should be searched with CommAbstracts as part of your normal search for articles.

Examples of Possible Topics and Relevant Databases:


Depending upon the complexity of your topic using several databases, and exploring your topic across various disciplines, may be key to viable and more enriched research.  Even if your articles are appearing in journals not identified as Communication, they may still deal with your topic and communication through that discipline's particular methodologies and approaches.  These are equally valid, especially if empirical results are relevant, and not available through traditional communication journal research literature.

Searching For Books In Communication in THOR:

Although Communication is dependant on journal articles for the latest research, Communication still relies on books and specialized studies appearing in books.  Called monographs, these are textbooks, special reports, or special studies in a series devoted to a particular area, i.e. mass communication, interpersonal communication, organizational communication, etc.  Often, these monographs treat one subject interest, while a book in a series may treat very specific or broader topics under a specialty, i.e. political communication or health communication.

Books are good to use when interested in:

a. Theory
b. Research design, methodologies, and/or techniques
c. History of communication
d. Philosophical or ethical considerations
e. Specific and specialized topics and approaches
f.  Legal aspects or characteristics

Go to THOR and select the Catalog option and use its various options to search for books of particular relevance.  Keep in mind that book-length studies are larger in scope and may or may not provide relevant research for your topic. 

If you require a book (or a journal article) that is not available at Purdue, West Lafayette Campus Libraries, you may use the Interlibrary Loan option.  Please allow enough time for The Libraries to acquire the item for you. The materials are borrowed from another library and are provided for you convenience for a specific period of time.

The Internet:

The internet is a compelling venue for all kinds of information.  As it is ubiquitous in nature and open to almost everything possible, triage is critical to your using it effectively when pursuing your topic.  Remember, the internet is not the repository for everything that you would like to access.  It is critical that you locate and select materials from vetted sites (sites that are professional, scholarly, or official, and recognized by peer review or other authority) when using web-based materials.  Unless directed otherwise by your instructor, you should first discuss this matter with her/him and a librarian. The internet is constantly changing, so it is imperative that you discuss your assignment before you start your research.

Remember: Communication is a very dynamic field and myriad in nature.

This tutorial provides a roadmap for navigating the research and library process,your research will be made easier and your final project, whether paper or oral presentation will improve.


Web site maintained by : P.Whalen & K.Schurr- - Content provided by: Jean-Pierre V.M. Hérubel - Questions: hsselib@purdue.edu

Last update: March 10, 2008