Appropriate Channels of Communication

Lesson Content

Inquire: Communication in College Life


Communication in college comes in many different forms. This lesson covers the purpose of communicating; discussion of audience, language, and tone of communication; appropriate uses of different channels of communication; and finally how to maintain privacy on social media. Additionally, this lesson covers the ins and out of netiquette to ensure that students learn how to properly present themselves online. There are numerous channels of communication, but after reading this lesson, students will have everything they need to identify and best use those channels in their lives.


Big Question

What are the appropriate channels of communication?

Read: Channels of Communication

Purpose of Communication

DecorativeTry to write a one-sentence definition of communication. It is quite hard. Defining communication feels like nailing Jell-O to a wall. The best way to define communication is by explaining its purpose. Communication is the process of using symbols to exchange meaning. Humans communicate in order to exchange meaning. This could mean telling a friend where to meet for lunch, explaining what a word means, or conveying support for a political party using a bumper sticker. All three of these are examples of communication, and they serve the same purpose: exchanging meaning with someone else.

Audience, Language, Tone

The audience is anyone who receives a speaker’s message. That may sound vague, but it really is that simple. The audience only needs to be someone who receives the message. However, that does not mean that everyone who receives the message is the intended audience. There are intentional audiences, the people to whom a speaker directs a message, and unintentional audiences, or those who receive a speaker’s message when the speaker did not deliberately choose to send it to that person or group. An intended audience is an individual or group of people for whom the speaker adapts the message. The speaker wants them to receive the message in the most effective way possible.

When speaking, it is important to be respectful of both the subject matter and the people in the audience. One way to do both of these is to be mindful of the language being used. Use language that is appropriate for the context, inoffensive, and accurate.

A final consideration when crafting a communicated message is tone. The tone is the general attitude a message conveys. In a serious situation, a speaker should avoid using a joking tone, for example. Matching a message’s tone to the situation will help ensure that the message is best received by an audience.

Available Channels and Which to Use for What

Communication comes in many forms. In college, some of the most commonly used channels include in-person communication, email, text, phone, and social media communication.


In-person communication is the most common form of communication. These conversations work well for nearly any communication need. Other channels of communication can substitute for in-person discussion, but in-person communication can help accomplish whatever communication goal a person has, without fail.


DecorativeEmails should be used for professional discussion. If a student has a question about an assignment, or if a group is working on a project, emails can be a great way to communicate with people when a response is not immediately required. The drawback to email is how long it can take to get a response from some people. If an urgent reply is required, email should not be used.

Text Message

Text messages are an informal way to communicate. In college, this channel should mostly be used to communicate with group members or friends. Rarely will teachers offer to use text messages to keep in touch with students.

Phone Calls

Phone calls are great for professional inquiries when the student is away. For instance, if a student needs to ask a question of the business office but that student is away from campus, then a phone call is an excellent option. If a student needs to talk to a professor during office hours but lives off campus, a phone call can solve this issue as well.

Social Media

Mass communication is quickly becoming one of the preferred methods of communication for many people. With the rise of social media, everyone is quickly adapting to an interconnected world the likes of which has never been seen before. Social media is a kind of mass communication that allows people to create profiles and share information between profiles as a means to network on the Internet. Professional online presence is key when using social media as a communication platform. Inappropriate posts can have far-reaching consequences on a student’s future.

Social Media and Privacy

Social media is becoming a growing force in nearly everyone’s lives. As the power of social media expands, so too does a new level of accountability. Colleges, employers, and anyone with access can look at social media posts to determine what kind of person their new hire, applicant, or date may be. With that in mind, one of the most important things to remember is that privacy is exceptionally limited and in some ways completely non-existant because of social media. This means that when posting online, students should think before they post, post positive accomplishments only, and refrain from posting risky photos or compromising information.

Reflect: Communication at Work


What channel of communication would you prefer in a college environment?

Expand: Netiquette 101


It is important for students to learn how to conduct themselves online. This section focuses on netiquette: the proper way to conduct oneself online.

Netiquette 101

DecorativeThere are a few rules to keep in mind for professional online conduct. First, students should realize that they are talking not to other computers but to other people. There is a person on the other side of any conversation online, so the student should not say anything to that person that they would not say in the real world. That person is a human being, so do not be mean or rude just because the conversation is happening online.

Second, students should act the same way online as they would in person, which goes beyond just speaking to others. It also includes how hard they work if working from home, the kinds of behavior they engage in or justify, and the kinds of people they interact with.

Third, be forgiving of others’ mistakes. People might say something that is wrong or they might mistype. Maybe they say something that is supposed to be sarcastic but it does not come across. Whatever it may be, if someone makes a mistake online, forgive them. It happens. If a person is willing to let it go when someone else makes a mistake, they will find it easier to expect the same from others when they make a mistake themselves.

Finally, look good. This does not mean the student should lie or pretend to be someone else. Instead, it means to be polite, respectful, and helpful, rather than using the limited anonymity of the Internet to be rude toward others. Several of these rules have a similar theme: respect. Netiquette all comes down to respect. So long as a person conducts themselves respectfully when online in any capacity, that person will be fine in a world that continues to be more connected than ever.

Check Your Knowledge

Use the quiz below to check your understanding of this lesson’s content. You can take this quiz as many times as you like. Once you are finished taking the quiz, click on the “View questions” button to review the correct answers.

Lesson Resources

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Additional Resources and Readings

Identifying Target Audiences

An article that gives an in-depth look at how to reach a target audience

The Communication Model: How to Understand Communication Processes

A video providing an in-depth look at different kinds of noise and other breakdowns that occur in the communication process, along with how to be mindful of them

How to Write and Send Professional Email Messages

An article that covers things to keep in mind when crafting professional emails

10 Professional Texting Etiquette Rules

An article providing things to keep in mind when texting in a professional setting

The Employee’s Guide to Netiquette

An article that explains “netiquette”

Lesson Glossary


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License and Citations

Content License

Lesson Content:

Authored and curated by Alexander Amos for The TEL Library. CC BY NC SA 4.0

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