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Basic Communication Skills: writing and reading; computer; listening; speaking

Writing and Reading Skills

Good writing involves more than just good spelling or punctuation. Sentences must be grammatically correct and paragraphs must contain a thesis that describes what the paragraph is about and transitions to following paragraphs. Writing should be clear, economical, and clever. Obviously, we cannot provide here an entire tome on how to write well, but we can point to some places that will help you write better. Here are some sites that you can use to brush up on your grammar.

The following tutorial sites contain quizzes that are fun to take:

Handbooks, manuals, or study guides that contain the rules of grammar:

For students who are learning English as a second language:
       ESL Web Guide

Some writing centers have a large variety of information, references, and help for writing projects:

To perfect any writing assignment, consult an online dictionary or thesaurus:

Writing Style

Several styles exist for writing and referencing sources. In communication, formal scholarly articles typically follow the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines. In the past, however, the Modern Language Association (MLA) style was more prominent. For popular magazines or in-house publications, many use the Chicago Manual of Style.

Owning the style manual tends to be your best option if you're taking a class or working in the industry. APA's style manual is called Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

PowerPoint presentation on APA style by Dr. Nichole Egbert. Used by permission.

Writing Assignments

Communication students are asked to write abstracts, literature reviews, research prospectuses, critical essays, and outlines. Abstracts are abridged summaries of articles or research reports; they generally contain background information, method, results, and discussion of the findings. A literature review summarizes and integrates research findings on a particular subject; it often ends with future research directions or a research proposal. Research prospectuses contain a rationale for the proposed study, research questions or hypotheses about the relationship between theoretical concepts, procedures to be followed in answering the questions or testing the hypotheses, and specifications of how the data will be analyzed. A critical essay identifies and then applies specific criteria to a subject (e.g., ethics of ghostwriting) or event (e.g., a political speech). Students and professionals construct outlines for speeches (addresses, presentations, etc.) and for written reports; they help keep ideas logically ordered. Steps for completing these projects are found in:

Rubin, R. B., Rubin, A. M., & Piele, L. J. (2004). Communication research: Strategies and sources (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Here are some Web sites that contain instruction for both written and oral presentations. Some contain instruction on how to read and take notes on scholarly articles and research reports.


Communication is a two-way process. Listening is an important (perhaps the most) skill. Several studies have confirmed that listening skills are identified as more important than speaking, writing, or managerial skills. In interpersonal communication, listening with empathy is a skill to be refined. In media professions, asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers are both essential. Listed below are various types of listening and their definitions (Barker, 1984). Some people have better remembering abilities, whereas others have better comprehending skills. Listening isn't a singular activity.

  • Hearing: The ear determines that sounds are apparent. Hearing difficulties will impede the listening process.
  • Perceiving: The person hears sounds and determines that they are worthy of paying attention to.
  • Attending: The listener pays attention to what is being said, trying to avoid distractions.
  • Comprehending: The listener assigns meaning to the words or sounds.
  • Remembering: Having heard, attended to, and comprehended the message, the listener remembers what was said or heard.
  • Responding: The listener lets the speaker know that the message was comprehended or does something to reflect accurate message reception.

Other types of listening might be more involved. For instance, Wolvin and Coakley (1982) discuss discriminative, comprehensive, critical, therapeutic, and appreciative listening:

  • Discriminative: Speech pathologists and music teachers are especially good at discriminative listening in that they can distinguish between speech sounds or musical notes well.
  • Comprehensive: Listening to a class lecture or public speech and being able to remember and understand all aspects is the mark of a good comprehensive listener.
  • Critical: A critical listener can identify main points, logical fallacies, effective techniques, etc., using standards of excellence for comparing the message to others.
  • Therapeutic: Psychologists, psychologists, family counselors, and hotline operators, for instance, can distinguish what was said from how it is said. They also provide empathic feedback to make sure the speaker knows that he/she is being listened to.
  • Appreciative: Music afficionados, for instance, can listen to sounds (music and text) for the sake of enjoyment.  


Basic speaking skills are expected for college students. Students in classes must be able to ask questions when they have them, present their ideas and opinions, work with others on group projects, relate to others socially, and answer questions. These skills are essential for educational environments. As students progress through their majors, they develop additional skills required in their future professions. Advanced skills must be developed and honed throughout one's lifetime. We've been able to identify basic, advanced, and blends of speaking skills for college and beyond. Take a look at this new list of Communication Skills for College Students and Graduates.

If you're working on projects involving oral presentations, the following sites might be useful:


Barker, L. (1984). Communication. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Morreale, S. P., & Rubin, R. B. (1997). Setting expectations for speech communication and listening. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Communication Association, Baltimore.

Rubin, R. B., & Morreale, S. P. (1996). Setting expectations for speech communication and listening. In M. Kramer (Series Ed.) & E. A. Jones (Vol. Ed.), New directions for higher education: Vol. 96, Preparing competent college graduates: Setting new and higher expectations for student learning (pp. 19-29). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Wolvin, A., & Coakley, C. G. (1982). Listening. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.