Communication Institute for Online Scholarship
CommunicationInstitute for Online Scholarship

ComAbstracts ComAnalytics Electronic Journal of Communication ComVista COSMIC

Teaching with COSMIC

Academic disciplines are distinguished by the unique concepts that are their focus. For example, among many other concepts, psychology focuses on personality and emotion, sociology on alienation, community, and social class, education on learning and attention, and communication on concepts like persuasion, meaning, information, and parasocial interaction. As a discipline matures, its core concepts are operationalized in one or another type of measurement system: scales, indexes, tests, procedures, category schemes, systems of observation, etc.

Academic disciplines do not hold still. They become internally differentiated over time as groups branch off to concern themselves with new concepts, questions, and theories. Interpersonal communication was not a visible focus within the field until the 1960s and 70s. Health communication was not visible until the 1980s, first appearing as a sub-specialty of the interpersonal area. This happened as well with the area of computer-mediated communication in the 1990s. While the interpersonal area has become something of a diffuse uber-area, both health communication and computer-mediated communication are now distinctive sub-disciplines with their own conceptual concerns, characteristic methodologies, and journals (e.g., in health communication: Health Communication (founded in 1985), Journal of Communication in Healthcare (founded in 2007), and in computer-mediated communication: Information, Communication, and Society (founded in 1997), and Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (founded in 1995).

Approaches to measurement and the analysis of data are also historical and divisional. The 1960s and 1970s saw the field exploring the benefits of advanced methods of statistical analysis then made possible by rapid progress in computing power. In the 1980s some areas of the field became interested in qualitative procedure with researchers exploring the benefits of ethnographic method. And once again, because of continuing progress in the power and availabilty of computing technology, statistical analysis of textual data has become visible in the communication literature in recent years.

Thus, the history of the communication (or journalism) field can be traced by looking at what its reseachers have been measuring over time and how they have been doing that, and there is educational value in assigning exercises that expose this. Because of COSMIC's carefully curated disciplinary focus and because of the manner in which records have been coded, all the exercises below can be accomplished using the built-in tools and capabilities of the database.

Instructors are encouraged to review the coding dictionaries used for COSMIC records here, which will help to make clear how searches can be tailored to help answer various questions. Time-related searches can be controlled using the optional year limiter in COSMIC's general search capability (making it possible to assign students to explore measurement in the 1960s, or in the first 20 years of field, or in organizational communication in the first decade of the 2000s, etc.).

Uncovering the History of the Field


What was the earliest measurement instrument published in the field's literature?

What theoretical concepts were being measured prior to 1950? Between 1950 and 1960? Between 1960 and 1970? Between 1970 and 1980? Between 1980 and 1990? Between 1990 and 2000? Between 2000 and 2010? Between 2010 and 2020?


What concepts are in focus in measures used in the area of mass communication? In interpersonal communication? In journalism? In organizational communication? In intercultural communication?


Note: All COSMIC records with specific geographical relevance outside of North America are coded with country names (e.g., France, Israel, Japan) as well as regional names (e.g., Europe, Middle East, Asia).

What distinquishes measures introduced in the European communication literature? In the Asian communication literature?


Create a timeline showing the introduction of new measures and what concept each of them sought to measure.


Note: These questions are best answered with ComAbstracts database rather than COSMIC.

What was the earliest use of factor analysis in the communication literature? What was the earliest appearance of Q methodology? Of ethnography? Of the ICA Communication Audit? Of network analysis? Of the Galileo system of measurement?


What are the main shortcomings, complaints, and other points of citicism of the various types of measures published in the field's literature (e.g., of mailed surveys, of scales, of ethnographies, of retrospective interviews, of online sampling techniques, of experiments, etc.)? This question can be answered using the General Search system and limiting the search to records that have been coded as "instrument, critique" (see the "MethodTerm" dropdown).