Communication research generally refers to the attempt to discover trends or facts in the field of communication and mass media.
Mass media comprises various forms of communication, addressing and reaching a large audience, and includes radio, television, newspapers and magazines, books, recordings, billboards and the Internet.
Roger Wimmer and Joseph Dominick support the idea that statistics and research are quite different in their methods and results. Research is done by researchers and not by statisticians. Statisticians are also involved in the research process, as they create the algorithms (statistical procedures and formulas) which in turn are used by researchers to study questions and hypotheses. According to Wimmer and Dominick, researchers should learn what they can do with research methods, instead of how they work.
A technological boom during the 20th century that allowed the rapid transmission of information drew the attention of sociologists to mass communication. The audiovisual technologies and the Internet have helped mass media gain a significant influence.
Political scientist and communication theorist Harold Lasswell defined communication research by answering five basic questions: Who says what in which channel to whom and with what effects? Mass communication is thus defined as the "transmission by professional communicators of a continuous flow of a uniform content by means of a complex apparatus to a large, heterogeneous and geographically dispersed audience, the members of which are usually anonymous to the communicator and to each other."
Such definition lacks the answer to the fifth question, or what are the effects of such transmission. The answer to that question is a central object of communication research. Researchers, however, have examined all parts of Lasswell's formula.
In the 1950s, communication research was developed, mainly in the United States, based on the formula created by Lasswell and with an emphasis on mass communication effects. Researchers soon began to focus on the effects of mass media starting to cross geographical boundaries.
The development of communication research was strongly influenced by political and economic trends worldwide, and by international relations. In the 1950s, four theoretical concepts of the press were established, representing the authoritarian, communist, libertarian and social responsibility ideas. The developmental prospective of mass media emerged after World War II along with the efforts for reconstruction and development of Third World countries. Mass media also started serving revolutionary goals, with China's transition in the 20th century and the more recent emergence of global terrorism.
In the 1970s, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) supported the creation of a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). UNESCO set up the MacBride Commission, chaired by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Seán MacBride, in order to prepare a set of measures to render global media representation more equitable. The MacBride Commission drew up a report titled "Many Voices, One World," outlining the philosophical bases of the New World Information Communication Order.
The UNESCO debate suggested that "media imperialism" was predominantly Western, in particular American. UNESCO and associated researchers conducted studies on international news flow in a large number of countries.
The original UNESCO report also cast light on the issue of inequality of females worldwide, referring to both the disproportionate employment and the stereotypical images of women in mass media. The report's findings were crucial for the women's movement and civil rights organizations.
The most recent issue in mass communication research focuses on the concentration of mass media into few transnational corporations -- corporate giants having enormous influence over a multinational audience. With the development of the Internet, studies on alternative ways for services transmission have been launched, for example, via cable television and direct satellite links.