Communication can be separated into many different categories or ‘types’. Generally, we categorize it into the four main mediums of communication: verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual.
However, we can also look at other ways to distil communication into categories, such as: informal vs formal, synchronous vs asynchronous, and intrapersonal vs interpersonal.
Below, each of the main types of communucation are introduced with a definition, examples, and brief table exploring the type’s strengths and weaknesses.
Types of Communication
1. Nonverbal Communication
Nonverbal communication refers to any form of communication that is not transmitted through spoken word.
But under this banner we also have other types of communuication listed below, including written and visual communication. Generally, however, when referring to nonverbal communication we tend to be talking about body language cues.
We can communicate and receive a lot of important information through nonverbal cues. This is why face-to-face communication (where you can see facial expressions, etc) leads to far less confusion than text messages or other low context means of communication that lack contextual cues.
In everyday communication events, we observer other people’s nonverbal cues as a form of perception checking, which involves seeing if their nonverbal communication matches their overt verbal communication, which can help to affirm that you are understanding the person effectively.
- Facial expressions: Smiling, frowning, raising eyebrows, furrowing brow, rolling eyes, etc.
- Gestures: Hand gestures, head nods, shrugging shoulders, pointing, etc.
- Posture: Standing tall, slouching, leaning forward or backward, crossing arms, etc.
- Eye contact: Direct eye contact, avoiding eye contact, staring, glancing, etc.
- Touch: Handshakes, hugs, pats on the back, etc.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Nonverbal Communication||Weaknesses of Nonverbal Communication|
|Can convey emotions and attitudes more effectively than words alone.||Can be misinterpreted or misunderstood because it’s often implicit not explicit in style.|
|Can reinforce or contradict verbal communication, acting as an augmentation to words.||Can be influenced by cultural or personal differences, leading to intercultural miscommunication.|
|Can communicate messages when verbal communication is not possible or appropriate, such as in the deaf community.||Can be used to deceive or manipulate others due to its often ambiguous nature.|
|Can enhance interpersonal relationships and rapport. A person whose nonverbal communication is calm can calm others, for example.||Can create discomfort or awkwardness in some situations if the person has poor nonverbal communication skills (such as being twitchy).|
|Can be used to provide feedback to others, such as when a speaker uses nonverbal cues in their audience to tell if their audience is keeping up.||Can be unintentionally distracting, unprofessional, or bely a person’s true intentions in formal settings, such as when a person rolls their eyes in a meeting.|
Go Deeper: Nonverbal Communication (Full Guide)
2. Verbal Communication
Verbal communication is any form of communication that occurs through spoken word. Its key strength is that it tends to be perceived as a trusted and authentic form of communication.
For example, people often want to talk to or hear from a real human when making an expensive purchase or big decision in their lives.
While face-to-face verbal communication also has the benefit of allowing for two-way dialogue between interlocutors, in our current era, verbal communication can also be one-way, such as through podcasts or videos.
Verbal communication tends to also have high-context elements to help with clarity of messages, such as tone of voice, pitch, and urgency.
Verbal communication skills are often taught at school, and mastery of effective verbal (and especially public) communication can be seen as a valuable skill in the workplace. Effective verbal communication requires not only the ability to articulate one’s thoughts and ideas clearly but also convey those thoughts with confidence in a variety of contexts.
- Conversations: Speaking with others in person, over the phone, or through video conferencing.
- Presentations: Delivering speeches, lectures, video conferences, or other formal talks to an audience.
- Written correspondence: Communicating through letters, emails, memos, text messages, or other written forms of communication.
- Face-to-Face Interviews: Answering questions posed by a potential employer in a face-to-face interview context.
- Video and Podcast: Video and podcast media generally also contain verbal communication, such as a person telling a story or a recording of a conversation between characters.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Verbal Communication||Weaknesses of Verbal Communication|
|Can convey complex ideas and emotions effectively through tone of voice, pitch, and urgency.||Can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, especially in interactions between people of different cultures.|
|When face-to-face, allows people to receive immediate feedback and clarification from the person they are speaking with.||Tone, pitch, and volume of voice may unintentionally change the message being delivered.|
|Can easily be tailored to the audience – for example, changing the complexity of language for younger people.||Can be influenced by linguistic differences even within one culture – for example, different accents may obscure the quality of the communication.|
|Can facilitate interpersonal relationships and bonding as voice is seen as the most authentic means of communication.||Poor language proficiency and the presence of speech impediments can prevent people from communication through this means.|
|Can be used to persuade or influence others||Ambient noise can easily obscure the message.|
|Is central to culture building. People’s language and accent are central to their sense of self and sense of community.||When used in daily communication, it is not recorded and therefore prone to mis-remembering (whereas written communication can be re-visited for clarification).|
Go Deeper: Verbal Communication (Full Guide)
3. Visual Communication
Visual communication means the transfer of information to a person in a format that can be read or viewed.
Such formats include physical objects and models, charts, cards, tables, photos, videos, drawings, and diagrams.
According to Gophinatan (2022), “…visual communication is the transmission of information and ideas using symbols and imagery” (p. 87).
It’s considered a sub-type of nonverbal communication.
Visual communication is a prevalent form of communication in the 21st Century. It’s a preferred medium for advertising as well as for storytelling (e.g. film) and social media entertainment.
- Infographics: Presenting complex information, data, or knowledge in a visually engaging and easy-to-understand format using charts, graphs, and illustrations.
- Slide Presentations: Conveying information, ideas, or concepts through a combination of text, images, and design elements in a slideshow format, often during meetings or conferences.
- Graphs and Charts: Visualizing data, trends, or comparisons through various graphical representations such as bar charts, pie charts, line graphs, and flowcharts.
- Videos and Animations: Using moving images, graphics, and visual storytelling techniques to convey a message or concept in an engaging and informative manner.
- Graphic Design and Branding: Employing design elements like logos, color schemes, and typography to create a visual identity for a product, company, or organization, which can be consistently applied across various media and platforms.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Visual Communication||Weaknesses of Visual Communication|
|Quickly communicates complex information and relationships between ideas, such as with graphs||Can be difficult to interpret at times, such as graphs that require additional explanation.|
|Captures attention especially when good color combinations are used.||May misrepresent or oversimplify complex concepts.|
|Easier to understand than words alone.||Can be time-consuming and costly to create for media producers.|
|Can evoke emotions and inspire action||Not ideal for conveying sensitive or detailed messages that may require explicit written word.|
|Enhances comprehension, especially for people who consider themselves visual learners.||Can be distracting or overwhelming if used incorrectly, such as when a webpage is too cluttered|
Go Deeper: Visual Communication (Full Guide)
4. Written Communication
Written communication involves the use of words, sentences, and paragraphs encoded in text in order to communicate.
Its primary benefit is that it is clearly and unambiguously recorded and saved, and can be looked back upon at a later date to determine what exactly was said.
Prior to the advent of audiovisual recording devices, written text was the key format for recording data. Today, it is still used for legal purposes, such as when we must sign and keep legal documents.
- Emails and Letters: Exchanging information, ideas, or requests through written messages in a formal or informal tone, sent electronically or through postal services.
- Reports and Documents: Compiling research, analysis, or project updates into structured written formats to inform, persuade, or provide recommendations to an audience.
- Blog Posts and Articles: Sharing knowledge, opinions, or experiences on a specific topic through written content published on websites, newspapers, or magazines.
- Books and eBooks: Conveying narratives, ideas, or educational content in a longer written format, distributed in print or digitally for readers to consume and engage with.
- Academic Writing: This is used to present facts and evidence in the form of essays, research papers, and other publications. Academic writing is often used in the fields of higher education and research.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Written Communication||Weaknesses of Written Communication|
|High accuracy: Written messages allow for greater accuracy because they can be edited and proofread to ensure accuracy before they are sent.||Lack of emotion: Written messages cannot convey nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or body language that are essential for sharing the sender’s feelings.|
|Clarity: Written statements can be crafted in a way that is easy to comprehend, making it useful for conveying complex messages clearly and concisely.||Delay in communication: Written messages need to be sent and received, which takes time, resulting in a delay in communication.|
|Efficiency: Written messages are more efficient than other forms of communication, such as verbal communication, in terms of time and cost savings. They are also more convenient to store and access when needed.||Misinterpretations: Messages can be misinterpreted or misunderstood, particularly when sarcasm and jokes are involved, as they lack the nonverbal cues and facial expressions that help convey the sender’s intent.|
Go Deeper: Written Communication (Full Guide)
5. Intrapersonal Communication
Intrapersonal communication is an individual’s own personal dialogue and reflection within themselves (Liddicoat & Scarino, 2013).
It is a form of metacognition that’s beneficial for self-improvement and self-reflection. This internal dialogue helps people to understand themselves better.
Debasis (2009) states that in intrapersonal communication:
“…the individual communicates in his mind through the process of thinking and feeling” (p. 13).
Control over our intrapersonal communication is important, however. For example, we need to silence our inner voice when trying to sleep, or if it leads to excessive negative self-talk.
- Self-Reflection: Engaging in an internal dialogue to assess one’s thoughts, emotions, or actions in a specific situation or over time.
- Goal Setting: Identifying personal objectives and desired outcomes, along with outlining a plan to achieve those targets through internal communication.
- Mental Rehearsals: Mentally practicing an upcoming task, speech, or performance in one’s mind to improve preparedness and reduce anxiety.
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Focusing on the present moment, breathing, and internal sensations to cultivate self-awareness, emotional regulation, and mental clarity.
- Daydreaming and Visualization: Using one’s imagination to explore scenarios, potential outcomes, or aspirations as a form of internal dialogue and problem-solving.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Intrapersonal Communication||Weaknesses of Intrapersonal Communication|
|Enhances self-awareness, allowing us to understand ourselves at a deeper level.||Can lead to overthinking which may be bad for our mental health.|
|Facilitates personal growth and development. Some reflection, journaliing, or meditation daily will help us to think through ways to achieve personal development.||May reinforce negative thoughts and emotions if we do not regulate and challenge our own thoughts.|
|Allows for better decision-making than if we never self-reflected.||Our inner thoughts lack external perspectives, meaning they often lead us down rabbit holes that are missing key information that we would be able to gather if we engaged in some more interpersonal interaction.|
Go Deeper: Intrapersonal Communication (Full Guide)
6. Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal communication simply refers to communication between two or more people. However, it is generally used to explain collaboration and group work.
The benefits of interpersonal communication include the development of strong relationships, the ability to achieve more together than alone, improved understanding of other peoples’ points of view, and the ability to resolve conflicts or disagreements.
Interpersonal skills are highly valuable in 21st Century workplaces. These are skills like the ability to mediate, lead a group, follow when necessary, influence others, and find common ground.
- Casual Conversations: Engaging in informal dialogue with friends, family, or colleagues to share experiences, thoughts, and emotions.
- Active Listening: Demonstrating empathy and understanding by attentively listening to another person’s ideas or concerns, and providing appropriate responses or feedback.
- Conflict Resolution: Addressing disagreements or misunderstandings between individuals by discussing the issues, identifying solutions, and finding common ground.
- Group Discussions: Collaborating with multiple individuals to exchange ideas, solve problems, or make decisions through open and respectful communication.
- Nonverbal Communication: Conveying meaning or expressing emotions through body language, facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice, in conjunction with verbal exchanges.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Interpersonal Communication||Weaknesses of Interpersonal Communication|
|Promotes understanding and empathy because dialogue helps people to seek clarification and common ground.||Because interpersonal communication is heavily influenced by cultural values (e.g. table manner taboos, social norms), it can often end in conflict.|
|Is highly effective for problem-solving because multiple people coming together can help each other get through cognitive blocks.||This communication can be hindered by power dynamics if there are people in the group who are overly assertive and don’t respect others’ voices.|
|Intrapersonal communifcation tends to foster a sense of belonging because people spend a lot of time in close personal contact.||Unlike other forms of communication, interpersonal communication tends to be synchrnous, meaning you need to get everyone together in the room at the same time.|
Go Deeper: Interpersonal Skills (Full Guide)
7. Mass Communication
Mass communication refers to communication at a social scale that is facilitated by broadcast media such as radio, television, or the internet.
It is believed that the emergence of the first form of mass communication in the 1500s – the printing press – led to the development of national cultures and identities (Anderson, 1987).
Mass communication is hugely beneficial for public health and safety, the spread of cultural values, and the spread of important news and information.
However, it has been widely critiqued for being controlled and gatekept by cultural elites. In the world of Web 2.0 and beyond, it’s also criticized for having the capacity to spread misinformation on a mass scale.
- Newspapers: For many centuries, daily and weekly newspapers were the key way in which people received current affairs information.
- Books: Often under-recognized, books are still one of the major forms of mass communication. The Bible, for example, was responsible for the spread of Christianity worldwide.
- Radio: Radio gives people instant access to audio information and entertainment. In its era, it was revolutionary. Radio’s primary limitation is lack of visual communication. Before long, television came along to resolve this problem.
- Television: Television was the first form of mass communication that has audiovisual properties – both visual and audio communication. It was also a big driver of shared national identity because popular programs tended to be broadcast nation-wide. It is in declined today, superseded by online video platforms.
- Internet: The internet is today’s form of mass communication. Within it, we have mass communication platforms like social media platforms, YouTube, and websites.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Mass Communication||Weaknesses of Mass Communication|
|Provides urgent and emergency news to the masses, which can save lives during times of natural disaster||Is one-to-many communication that does not allow for genuine dialogue and instant feedback for the sender of information.|
|Facilitates a shared sense of identity across national groups or, with the internet, across internet subcultures||Traditional mass media (offline) was controlled by elites and gatekeepers who controlled the flow of information to the masses.|
|Has dramatically increased the amount of information that people have access to on a daily basis.||New mass media (online) lacks gatekeepers, leading to mass disinformation and disintigration of shared truths.|
Go Deeper: Mass Communications Theories (Full Guide)
8. Synchronous Communication
Synchronous communication refers to real-time interaction between individuals, allowing for immediate feedback and dynamic exchanges.
In the digital age, synchronous communication can occur through various channels, including in-person meetings, phone calls, video conferencing, and instant messaging platforms.
Synchronous communication allows for rapid problem-solving, collaboration, and increased understanding among participants by enabling instant clarification of ideas and immediate response to questions.
- In-person meetings: Collaborating face-to-face to discuss ideas, share updates, or make decisions.
- Phone calls: Engaging in real-time conversations to convey information, provide support, or build relationships.
- Video conferences: Connecting remotely with others using audio and visual technologies to facilitate communication and collaboration.
- Instant messaging: Exchanging text-based messages in real-time to quickly share information, ask questions, or coordinate activities.
- Live chat support: Providing immediate assistance to customers or users through real-time text-based communication.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Synchronous Communication||Weaknesses of Synchronous Communication|
|Allows for immediate clarification to minimize misunderstanding on behalf of the receiver.||Can be challenging to coordinate schedules, although this has become easier with technology.|
|The sender of the message also gets feedback on what they have said, which can help them improve their communication style over time.||Does not allow you time to think through your response and craft a clear, detailed, and unambiguous response.|
|Builds rapport and interpersonal connections. In other words, people get to know each other a lot more intimately and faster.||May lead to information overload if not managed effectively. Often, people need to take time to process information before returning to the conversation.|
9. Asynchronous Communication
Asynchronous communication involves the exchange of messages or information without the requirement for participants to be simultaneously present or engaged.
This type of communication allows individuals to respond at their convenience, accommodating different schedules, time zones, and work styles.
Examples of asynchronous communication include emails, discussion boards, recorded video messages, and collaborative documents.
- Emails: Sending and receiving messages with attachments, allowing recipients to respond at their convenience.
- Discussion boards: Posting and replying to topics in online forums, fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing.
- Recorded video messages: Creating and sharing pre-recorded videos, providing visual information to be viewed at a later time.
- Collaborative documents: Sharing and editing files with others asynchronously, enabling teamwork and collective input.
- Social media posts: Crafting and sharing content, allowing followers to engage and respond in their own time.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Asynchronous Communication||Weaknesses of Asynchronous Communication|
|Accommodates different schedules and time zones so people can come to the information at their own time and pace.||Leads to delays in response and feedback so the person doing the communication can’t make changes on the fly.|
|Allows for thoughtful and considered responses which can help to decrease risks, mistakes, and miscommunication.||May be far less engaging than synchronous communication because there’s no anticipation of surprise or interactiveness.|
|Provides flexibility in receiving information and working at your own pace. For example, people may want to paise and rewind for clarification in a video.||Can lead to feelings of isolation or disconnection. For example, in education, students may feel unsupported and confused.|
10. Formal Communication
Formal communication refers to structured and professional exchanges that follow established rules, guidelines, and etiquette.
This type of communication is typically used in professional settings, official correspondences, or ceremonial events, and can include both verbal and written forms.
Formal communication often involves the use of proper language, clear structure, and respectful tone, ensuring clarity and credibility in the message being conveyed.
- Business letters: Crafting well-structured and professionally formatted correspondence for official purposes.
- Presentations: Delivering well-organized and polished speeches or lectures to an audience, using appropriate language and visual aids.
- Reports: Writing comprehensive and coherent documents to present research findings, project updates, or policy recommendations.
- Agendas and meeting minutes: Creating and distributing structured outlines of topics to be discussed, along with records of decisions and action items.
- Formal invitations: Sending carefully crafted and elegantly designed invitations for events, such as weddings, conferences, or award ceremonies.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Formal Communication||Weaknesses of Formal Communication|
|Conveys professionalism and can give a sense of credibility and authority to the communication sender.||Can be perceived as rigid and impersonal, leading to mistrust or distate of elitism in some contexts.|
|Ensures clarity and consistency of communication because colloquialisms and crass language is removed.||May limit the expression of emotions or authenticity because people are constrained to limited grammar and vocabulary.|
|Follows established rules and etiquette which can minimize chances that your communication will be unintentionally offensive.||Often excludes people who are not familiar with the jargon or are of a sub-culture or social class that does not adhere to the formal language of the dominant class.|
11. Informal Communication
Informal communication involves casual and spontaneous exchanges between individuals, often characterized by a relaxed tone and the use of colloquial language.
This type of communication typically occurs in personal conversations, friendly interactions, or social media engagements, and can include verbal, written, and nonverbal forms.
Informal communication allows for the expression of personal opinions, emotions, and experiences, fostering rapport and relationship-building among participants.
- Casual conversations: Engaging in unstructured and relaxed dialogues with friends, family, or colleagues.
- Text messages: Sending and receiving brief, colloquial messages to share updates, ask questions, or coordinate plans.
- Social media comments: Interacting with others through likes, shares, and comments on various platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
- Informal emails: Writing casual and conversational messages, often using abbreviated language and emoticons.
- Comedy Shows: Comedians tend to employ informal communication in order to send signals to the audience that they are in a space designed to make light of social situatios.
Strengths and Weaknesses
|Strengths of Informal Communication||Weaknesses of Informal Communication|
|Fosters rapport and relationship-building between in-groups. It can help create a sense of community and connection.||Tends not to conform to conventions, making it hard to understand and exclusionary against out-groups.|
|Reduces barriers to people who don’t understand formal language or jargon.||Can cause offense to people because it tends not to conform to rules around formal social etiquette.|
|Facilitates the expression of emotions without constraints that may limit self-expression.||Tends not to be perceived as professional and is seen as inappropriate in most social contexts, especially legal contexts.|
Metacommunication refers to communication about communication. It generally refers to statements or non-verbal cues during a conversation used to check in about how the conversation is going.
For example, you might pause to reflect on what you said by saying “did that make sense to you?” This specific type of metacommunication is called metacommentary.
Online, we see metacommuncation on social media such as twitter where there are warning comments giving context about the text that is being read.
There might be a flag saying some of the statements are contested or untrue; or, there might be a notice explaining the author of the text. This adds context to the text and allows you to understand more about what you’re reading.
- Clarifying yourself: Saying in text or verbally, “that was a joke, by the way.”
- Voice inflection: Going up at the end of a sentence can indicate you’re asking a question.
- Metacommentary: Making a comment about what you’re saying, like, “wow, I’m going around in circles aren’t I?”.
- Paraphrasing: After a long speech, consciously paraphrasing what you said to recap the key points.
- Signposting: When giving a speech, starting by signposting what you will say and the order in which it will be said to help people follow your speech.
There are likely many other types of communication we can examine, but the above are some key examples of ways we have categorized communication in communications and media studies. These categories are useful to analyze how different approaches to communication have their own key strengths and weakesses.
Separating communication out into its various types also helps us to explore how different types of communication have risen to prominence depending upon the technology of the day. This sort of analysis can demonstrate how technologies have fundamentally shaped how societies communicate and, therefore, facilitated large-scale cultural change. To explore this idea that communication technologies shape societies and cultures, take a look at my article on technological determinism.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]