I Don’t Know Jack about Communications

By J. Dean Spence

I don’t know jack about communications. But I know a thing or two about communication.

“Communicate” is a verb. It involves the exchange of information between two or more parties.  According to the classic Shannon-Weaver model, this exchange of information has six elements: a sender, a receiver, a message, a channel of communication, and the processes of encoding and decoding. This is the type of communication that I do

Technically, in the professional world, communications—with an “s”—is a noun and refers to telecommunications, a subject of which I know nothing.

The amount of people who confuse communication and communications is surprising. Although it is unlikely that a communication scholar would make such a mistake, many professionals, some of whom have been working in communication for decades, and some of whom presumably studied communication at university (but apparently didn’t pay attention) do make the mistake. Just look at the job ads on Indeed.com, for example. What the devil is a “marketing and communications specialist”?

You might counter by saying, “Jason Dean, if I publish content in a newspaper, a blog, a magazine or on social media, those are indeed nouns—communications with an ‘s’!” Seemingly so…but not so fast! According to the Shannon-Weaver model of communication, those are actually channels of communication.

You might even more convincingly counter by saying, “Jason Dean, if I send or exchange a series of tweets, blogs or magazine articles with my audience, those are indeed nouns—communications with an ‘s’” This is true, but remember a person who operates on sick people is a “surgeon” not a “surgeries”. And those examples are just some of the outputs of a strategic communicator. You can’t fully describe our role based solely on an incomplete list of our outputs. And it seems just plain awkward to define someone’s role based on a noun that doesn’t fully encapsulate his or her role. A strategic communicator is more than the sum of his or her parts. He or she is involved with the complete process of exchanging information with his or her audience. Simply put, a strategic communicator deals with communication. Period.

It has all gotten me confused. When I apply for a job, do I refer to what I do as “communications” if the job ad says “communications”, or do I stick to my guns and refer to my work as communication? And if I do stick to my guns, will the employer notice and think that I have made a careless typographical error?

The diploma I received from Ryerson University (MPC, 2016) correctly indicates that I have a “Master of Professional Communication.” No “s”. But should I add the “s” when updating my LinkedIn profile? I was hired as the Director of Marketing and Communications at a nonprofit called REST: should I keep the “s” on my LinkedIn page?

When in Rome…

But I’m not Roman!

Again, it’s all very confusing.

That the average Joe on the street would confuse the two words is understandable. But I am absolutely stunned by people who should know better. And because of them, I don’t know which word to use when referring to my chosen profession.

Then again, I am an English major (BA York University, 2000). I know that English, like most languages, is a living language. If native speakers consistently use a word or phrase in a certain way, who am I to roll a pedantic eye in their direction. What do I know? I’m only a Master of Professional Communication.

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