Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reading and Writing Without Bias: The Fine Print of Every Article

With the race for the Republican nomination gaining more press coverage, many voters will be bogged down with the task of distinguishing truth from fiction in political ads and debates. Even the most knowledgeable voter will have difficulty in weeding through the bias and mudslinging of political campaigns. However, bias in journalism, literature, and media coverage does not exist solely around election time. It is challenging to write without bringing in your personal opinion. Therefore, when researching potential sources before writing a paper, it is important for you to be alert for the bias of others.

The goal of most research papers is to write a well-balanced paper with good information and little to no bias. Why write without bias? Well, a research paper presents information on a topic, and biased information will lack legitimacy, not being as respected. Thus, it is important to avoid being biased.

To begin to recognize bias, it is important to look at where the source originates. For example, if you are looking for a source linking smoking with lung cancer, a study funded by a tobacco company that proves there is no link between the smoking and cancer has an inherent bias. Since it is in the tobacco company's best interest to prove that its product does not cause lung cancer, this study, funded by them in order to prove what they want to be true, lacks much legitimacy and is therefore biased.

Additionally, bringing one's opinion into a piece can be a form of bias, especially when the author is not an expert in the field. For instance, if you include a quote found in a blog in your research paper, the writer of the blog entry is probably not an expert, and thus, when you quote their personal opinions, you bring another person's bias into your paper, making your paper biased as well.

Finding biased material in an article is not always as clear as it is in the above examples. For this, I offer a few tips:

- Make sure that the article does not ignore or omit information from one side of an argument. A well-balanced paper will include both positive and negative aspects.

- Look to the sources used. If the selection of sources supports only one view, the information in the piece may not be impartial.

- Ensure that the story includes various interpretations of an event if alternative interpretations exist. Including only the parts of an event that supports your view is a form of bias.

- Watch to see if the author labels people of opposing views negatively while supporting or over-qualifying people of the same view. Not giving credence to experts on the opposing side is a form of bias.

Reading through bias is like reading through the lines of a legal document: it is necessary to understand the information presented, but uncovering the facts is a challenge. Hopefully as you sit down to look at potential sources for your next paper, you concentrate on finding possible bias as much as you look to the information presented. After all, if you were searching for accurate information on a specific presidential candidate's platform, you wouldn't want to look solely at the information presented in mudslinging political campaign ads of their opponents.

No comments: