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Theoretical Literacy


Typical page in my Intro to Comm Theory text

Learning Outcome

Theoretical literacy within the communication discipline demonstrated by the ability to articulate at least one theoretical framework and use it to illuminate a real-life communication problem, strategy, or initiative.


COMM 664: Top 10 Best Practices for Communicating Organizational Identity and Brand (Narrative Paradigm theory)

COMM 658: Strategic Connectivity Plan – Twitter strategy using Putnam’s theory of Social Capital

COMM 613: Impression Management Theory for Communication Uh-Ohs

COMM 616: Care for the Caregiver


Most assignments in the program involved the application of a theoretical framework to a real-life problem, strategy, or initiative. I chose the four assignments listed above because they demonstrate the diversity of theoretical applications.  In a typical assignment, we would give a rationale for why a specific theory applies to a specific communication scenario, outline the essential elements of the theory, then use the theory as a lens to examine the research situation. In the first example, Top 10 Best Practices for Communicating Organizational Identity and Brand, the theoretical application (Narrative Paradigm theory) is in the form of a “best-practices” style article common on business blogs. A reader would not need a theoretical background to understand the application of the theory. In the second example, I use the theory as a framework around which to build strategic plans, one for a brand, the other for a social media campaign. The theory provides the bones for comprehensive, actionable strategies. In the final two examples (Impression Management Theory for Communication Uh-Ohs and Care for the Caregiver), I make theory personal, using theory to address work and home-life issues in my own life.

I love engaging theory* (that’s a big reason chose this program), and I see applications of theory everywhere. In my very first assignment, I wrote about the role I saw for communication theory:

My first communication theory course felt like a revelation. I wholeheartedly embraced the idea, shared by the authors that “Developing an understanding of a variety of communication theories means we can be more discriminating in how we communicate in every area of our lives, can gain tools to use deliberately to improve our communication, and can better understand what the discipline of communication is about” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 3). Once this idea was pointed out to me, I saw it everywhere. If countries could better communicate, we could end war. If political parties could better communicate, we could end legislative gridlock. If people could better communicate, we could end a lot of discord.

I leave this course validated in the belief that communication theory is the anchor that should root all communication practice. Platforms may change, but humans remain (relatively) the same. As a communication professional, it is easy to get swept up in the hottest new platform or business book; I see theory as the way for me to stay grounded as I move through the rapids of my industry.

*As proof of my crazy love for theory, look at this extra assignment I gave myself in the first course. I created and populated the table by hand–it took 7 screen shots to get the whole thing on the blog.

Favorite Theory: I have three: Goffman’s Dramaturgic Metaphor, Putnam’s Social Capital, and Fisher’s Narrative Paradigm.


Littlejohn, Stephen W. & Foss, Karen A. (2011). Theories of human communication. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.


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