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Media Literacy: How to Research Media Literacy

I've been assigned to write a paper on a media literacy topic. Where do I start?

It helps to think of your research project as a process with a series of steps. Follow the steps outlined here to gather background information, define your topic, and find sources. You can also use many of the resources found throughout this guide.

Step 1: Gather Background Information

The first step is to define the topic. What is media literacy?

  • Google the term "media literacy." There are many organizations that promote media literacy and provide good definitions of the term. Compare definitions until you have a clear idea of what the term means.

Step 2: Identify Keywords

Once you can define media literacy, you are ready to identify words and phrases to use in your research. Here's how:

Turn again to the sites you found in your Google search. As an example, this definition comes from The Media Literacy Project.

"Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media. Media literate youth and adults are better able to understand the complex messages we receive from television, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, books, billboards, video games, music, and all other forms of media ... Media literacy skills can help youth and adults: 
- Develop critical thinking skills
- Understand how media messages shape our culture and society
- Identify target marketing strategies
- Recognize what the media maker wants us to believe or do 
- Name the techniques of persuasion used 
- Recognize bias, spin, misinformation, and lies 
- Discover the parts of the story that are not being told 
- Evaluate media messages based on our own experiences, skills, beliefs, and values 
- Create and distribute our own media messages
- Advocate for a changed media system"


In the passage above, which words or phrases best capture key aspects of media literacy?

  • Some of my answers would be: media, analyze, evaluate, critical thinking, persuasion, bias. What other words can you add?
  • Repeat this exercise using definitions you find on other websites, until you have a lengthy list of keywords.

Step 3: Focus the research question

You may be able to focus on a more specific research question within the topic of media literacy. For example, how did college students in the United States get their political news during the 2020 presidential campaign? To narrow your research, think of the four questions words. Examples are in parentheses:

  • Who (college students)
  • What (political news)
  • Where (United States)
  • When (2020 presidential campaign)

Step 4: Search Using Keywords

Choose a library database from the recommended databases in this guide.

Practice entering your keywords into the search, combining them in different ways.

Don't forget to also try:

  • synonyms for the words on your list (media = mass media, news, press)
  • different forms of the words on your list
  • antonyms (opposites) of the words on your list, if relevant
  • examples of the words on your list (such as television, radio and internet as examples of media).

Here are some example searches you can try:

  • political information AND bias
  • mass media AND political information
  • news sources AND evaluation
  • soft news AND politics

Recommended Databases


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Regina Seguin (Valencia College)
Valencia College - West Campus
Office: 6-326M
Mail Code: 4-4
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