Writing in Communication

If you are a Communication major or minor, or just if you are taking communication courses, there are a certain set of expectations that Communication professors have for their students in terms of what they are expected to learn here at CI. These learning outcomes include demonstrating effective collaboration skills with others in one-on-one and small/large group settings and with audiences of diverse memberships; identifying optimal means to communicate depending upon the audience, situation and by understanding the relevance, limitations and effectiveness of different communication technologies and medium; analyzing messages critically for content, purpose, organization, argument, style and meaning; and demonstrating proficiency in written and oral communication (see Communication Program learning outcomes). We professors believe that, as a whole, Communication students are very good at communicating orally, but we also believe that they could be better writers.

This Writing Guide is a compilation of thoughts from your professors on what constitutes good writing. We hope it is helpful to you as you take Communication courses at CI in determining what we look for in your writing and what expectations we (and employers!) have as you progress to graduation.

Types of Writing in Communication

As in so many other disciplines, Communication courses require myriad types of writing assignments. Some include homework essays, term papers, personal reflections, primary research, outlines, persuasive arguments, filed notes, portfolios, literature reviews, abstracts, and a host of other assignments. Each of these assignments requires thoughtful consideration and preparation. Writing in a stream of consciousness looks unfocused, and writing like you were texting a friend looks unprofessional (especially when emailing professors!). Solid academic writing takes time and effort, as well as a good grasp of Standard English – both the language and its grammar rules.

Advice on Writing in Communication

All too often, Communication professors and professors in other disciplines are frustrated by students’ poor writing and their lack of attention to detail when it comes to grammar and punctuation. Some of these frustrations include plagiarism, a lack of argument/thesis, a lack/resistance to revision, a lack of attention to detail, poor integration of sources/lack of support for the argument, not getting to the point/lack of clarity, no effort to learn/apply APA, poor grammar/proof reading, lack of distinction between opinion and fact, and other issues.

This Writing Guide is an attempt to address these issues and frustrations. It is an attempt to increase your awareness of variety of kinds of writing, how to address various audiences, and to explain how your professors often see, and want you to see, a purpose beyond any one writing assignment. Just as we enjoy watching you grow and develop as people, we enjoy watching you grow and develop as scholars because you are the future leaders of this country.

The CI Writing Center is very helpful. There are many people, both students and staff, who are willing and able to help you with your writing, but don’t wait until the last minute! See them early and often. Even professional writers make use of editors to check the author’s work for clarity and consistency. The better you write the better your grades and the more willing professors are to write you references and letters of recommendation!

Another thing – do not use the same paper for multiple classes. More and more, professors are using programs such as “Turnitin.” These programs compare your writing to millions of words of text and are very good at finding plagiarized material, including papers you’ve already written for other classes! Using one paper for multiple classes is academically dishonest and is plagiarism (unless you put the entire second paper in quote marks!).


According to our University library’s plagiarism guide (PDF, 71.9KB) , plagiarism is “[u]sing other people’s words and ideas without clearly acknowledging the source of the information.” It is one of the worst things you can do academically (see CI’s policy on academic dishonesty) and could result in your expulsion from the university. If you use a quote or an idea from someone else, simply cite them. It is the right—and professional—thing to do!

Punctuation, grammar and sentence structure

By the time a student has reached a university, she or he is expected to know when and where to use commas, periods, semi-colons and colons. He or she is expected to know proper grammar rules and to not write page-long paragraphs (only Dickens seemed to get away with that, but he was paid by the word!). Well-written material illustrates that you not only know the material, but also that you have given the assignment proper reflection and did not just dash something off at the last minute. It is the mark of a professional. On the CI website, you can find all sorts of resources. For example, when doing research papers in Communication, put quotation marks around a direct quote (remember, the punctuation, a period or comma, for example goes inside the quote), unless the citation is at the end of the passage. For example, according to Smith (2012), “Yeats was the finest poet since Homer.” Or you could write “Yeats was the finest poet since Homer” (Smith, 2012).

Writing and Documenting Research Papers: APA Style

Finding academic sources is imperative for doing solid research writing. Using on-line dictionaries or Wikipedia is okay to get ideas of how to proceed, but do not cite them because they are not considered academic sources. To define terms or concepts, find references in the academic literature. To document the facts and ideas that you find and use in your research, create a reference list of sources of information cited and a series of references that indicate which facts and ideas came from which source. The American Psychological Association (APA) style of documentation is used in Communication. What follows are examples of the most common types of citations. For more detailed explanations or for more unusual types of citations, please see the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th Edition).

Reference List Basics

The tables below show the information you need and the format to use for each type of resource on the left. A specific example for that type of resource is on the right. You will also need to know the following as you create your reference list: Double space all lines within and between entries. Examples provided on this handout are single spaced to save space.

  • Indent one-half inch (5 spaces) before the second and all subsequent lines in the citation.
  • Arrange the completed reference list in one alphabetical list.
  • Give only the first city of publication; use official two-letter U.S. Postal Service abbreviations for states.
  • Each reference cited in your text must appear in the reference list, and each resource on the reference list must be cited in the text.
  • Only the first word of a title or subtitle and proper nouns are capitalized in book titles and magazine, journal, and newspaper article titles and subtitles.
  • Use n.d. (no date) when there is no publication date.

Formats and Examples for Print Resources


Basic Format of Citation Sample Citation
Single Author
Last name of author, Initial(s) of author. (Date). Title of book. City of Publication: Publisher.
Howell, G. (2006). Gertrude Bell: Queen of the desert, shaper of nations. New York: Farrar.
Multiple Authors
Last name of author, Initial(s) of author. (Date). Title of book. City of Publication: Publisher.
Torrey, E. F. & Knable, M. B. (2005). Surviving manic depression. New York: Basic Books. [Note: For more than 6 authors, substitute the phrase “et al.” for all subsequent authors after the sixth one.]
Last name of editor, Initial(s) of editor. (Ed.). (Date). Title of book. City of Publication: Publisher.
Robertson, G. L. IV (Ed.). (2006). Not in my family: AIDS in the African-American community. Chicago: Agate.
Chapter in An Edited Book
Last name of article chapter author, Initial(s) of author. (Date). Chapter title. In Book editor initial(s) and last name (Ed.). Title of book. (pp. page numbers of chapter). City of Publication: Publisher.
Johnson, C. & Bulik, C. (2007). Genetics play a significant role in eating disorders. In V. Wagner, (Ed.), Eating disorders (pp. 70-76). Detroit: Thomson Gale.
Government Publication
Name of Government Agency. (Date). Title of publication. City of Publication: Publisher.
United States Census Bureau. (2006). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2007. Washington, DC: GPO.
Encyclopedia Article
Last name of article author, Initial(s). (Date). Title of article. In Encyclopedia editor initial(s) and last name (Ed.). Encyclopedia title. Volume number (pp. page number(s) of article). City of Publication: Publisher.
Stoiber, K.C. (2000). Academic intervention. In A.E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology. Vol. 1 (pp. 14-17). New York: Oxford University Press.
Last name of author, Initial(s). (Date in year, month day format). Title of article. Magazine title, Page(s).
Cannon, A. (2004, August 9). Overcrowding, violence, and abuse— state juvenile justice systems are in a shockingly chaotic state: Now finally the Feds are stepping in. U.S. News & World Report, 28-32.
Last name of author, Initial(s). (Date). Title of article. Journal Title, Volume number (Issue number) Page(s).
Leon, C. S. (2007). Should courts solve problems? Connecting theory and practice. Criminal Law Bulletin, 43(6) 879- 899.

As you can see, we professors have huge expectations for your writing. Even so, we truly believe that Communication students have the ability to be excellent writers, and we will do everything we can to ensure your continued growth and success as writers. We are always available to answer your questions and to help you succeed in any way we can.