FAQs: Comparing Communication Databases

I’m gathering articles for a class assignment and don’t know whether to use Communication Abstracts or Communication & Mass Media Complete for my initial search. What’s the practical difference between these two databases?


This is a great question that I typically get from students who are new to communication studies,  but which is actually very important to researchers at every level.

Too often as information seekers we turn to resources that are familiar to us, or which are broadly recommended, without a clear understanding of what it is we are technically searching. How many of us stop to think about how Google works before we turn to it for online information? How many of us take the time to read the “Publications” section of a library database before using it to discover content?

Admittedly, in many cases, we are able to deduce the approximate scope of such resources through our on-demand use of them. Google is a good example of this, as “Googlebots” are continuously crawling the web for new content — making it otherwise impossible to describe its coverage. However, in the case of databases — and especially database comparisons — the best answer typically lies with the vendor or vendors in question.

Communication Abstracts is a communication-focused database that can be accessed through one of two vendor platforms: EBSCOhost (shown at top) or ProQuest.

Regardless of platform, Communication Abstracts consists of a combination of “core” journals (e.g. of essential relevance to the field) , “priority” journals (e.g. of substantial relevance), and “selected” journals (e.g. of occasional relevance). Each of these journals receives a different level of indexing and abstracting coverage, ranging from the partial to the full. Most database vendors also make a point of touting the number of “full text” journals offered by each collection — although researchers still find non-full text records useful to the process of scholarly discovery, particularly when combined with other library services like article-level Interlibrary loan.

According to the EBSCO website, the Communication Abstracts database currently includes:

  • 334 core journals.
  • 101 priority journals.
  • 98 selective journals.

Communication & Mass Media Complete is the the library’s other communication-focused database. While similar to Communication Abstracts in that it is also accessed through the EBSCOhost platform, CMMC’s current contents are actually quite different:

  • 775 core journals.
  • 227 priority journals.
  • 0 selective journals.
  • 5,000+ author profiles, including biographical and bibliographic data

Based on these numbers, one can clearly see that CMMC covers substantially more “core” and “priority” publications than Communication Abstracts — yet that Communication Abstracts has the advantage of hitting more of the “selective” journals that might contain more specialized or interdisciplinary communication scholarship. Likewise, for researchers interested in author information, CMMC offers biographical and bibliographic features not otherwise available in Communication Abstracts.

Watch this video to learn how to search both databases at the same time.

Overall, both databases would likely be useful to a researcher interested generally in communication studies — but by taking the time to learn more about the similarities and differences in their coverage, one comes away with a much better understanding of the suitability of each database to a specific type of research question.

For more information about the specific journals covered by each database, please visit their respective vendor pages, or download one of these custom Excel spreadsheets:


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