We’ve all got opinions. Some good, some bad, and some we should probably keep to ourselves. Sometimes, our opinions slip out even when we don’t mean for them to. It can happen in the break room at work, around the dinner table at Thanksgiving, and when we’re not careful, they can slip out in our writing.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with sharing our opinions through our writing in certain contexts, but when we’re supposed to be writing about a topic objectively, our writing shouldn’t be one-sided.
Biased writing is all over the place- so let’s talk about how we can spot it and avoid bias in our own writing.
What is bias anyways?
We can’t pretend our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs don’t impact how we interact with others and ultimately, what we write. In some instances, we’re able to and even encouraged to write openly about our thoughts and opinions. But to create consistent, objective content, we have to look at the larger picture and see things from all sides to ensure we’re providing the most accurate information about a topic.
Biased writing is everywhere. We frequently spot it in the media when someone reports on a political issue. We find it in academic writing when someone attempts to defend their side. And sometimes, we create biased writing, even when we don’t mean to.
Bias is our tendency to lean towards one side. It can also be defined as prejudice in favor of one side, particularly in a way that is unfair. If you asked someone what university is the best, they will tend to say the university they attended- but they’re biased after all. Bias keeps us from seeing an issue from all sides. However, it’s more than just something that’s frustrating for the reader. Bias, especially in writing, can be dangerous.
Creating content is a significant responsibility. As writers, we know that words matter and that they have the power to influence others. Bias doesn’t just make us come across as disingenuous, it can also mislead people into believing something that’s untrue. There are many times when we might have a strong opinion about a topic, but to write about it fairly, we often have to represent multiple sides. The good news is, there are ways to easily spot biased writing and avoid bias in your own writing.
How to spot bias from a mile away
Is it important to know how to spot bias? Yes, absolutely. However, bias isn’t all bad. Often times we want to read something where the author is leaning toward a particular opinion. When someone is open about which way they lean on a particular issue, we may be interested in reading their side. On the other hand, when someone claims to be unbiased, but subtly includes bias in their writing, it comes off as sneaky.
So how can you spot biased writing?
Here are some simple ways:
- Check the sources- in biased writing, the author may only use sources that confirm their side, and typically, the sources will be biased as well. The evidence will often be one-sided or the author may not provide any factual evidence.
- Check the language- biased writing can most easily be spotted by the language. Biased writing will usually be heavily opinionated and include extreme or emotional language. Word choice, as we know, matters, and it says a lot about what we think even in the simplest of articles.
- Check the headline- you can tell a lot just by the headline of an article. The headline of a biased article may include strong language or hyperbole. The point of the headline is to grab the reader’s attention, but misleading information can even influence those who don’t actually read the article.
- Check the sides: biased writing is naturally going to be one-sided. If the author is showing a lot of bias, they may discuss both sides, but the other side may be presented in an unfair way.
- Check the author- if you’re reading an article that is heavily biased, check the credentials of the author. They may not be an expert on the topic, or you may be able to identify their perspective by finding out more about them.
Avoiding Bias in Your Writing
You can’t avoid biased writing by pretending you don’t have any bias. To successfully avoid biased writing, you have to be aware of your bias and know how to recognize it in your writing. Here are some tips for writing fairly:
Generalizations are a surefire way to show you’re biased about an issue. It’s best to avoid words like all or every, especially when talking about specific groups of people. Don’t say: “All students change their beliefs in college.” Instead say, “Some college students are impacted by the teaching and community at their university, leading to a change in their opinions.”
If you want to write fairly, always provide factual evidence for your claims. Unless you’re writing an opinion article, provide facts instead of opinions. It’s important to include evidence from both sides of an issue and use credible sources.
Use fair language
Intentionally appealing to extreme emotions is going to come across as biased. If you want to write objectively about a topic, avoid strong and emotional language. It’s also important to avoid stereotypes and write in a way that respects the dignity of any person or group of people you may be writing about.
Stick to the purpose
When you find yourself leaning towards bias in your writing, think back to the purpose of the content. If the purpose is not to persuade the reader, then share both sides and avoid negative language when talking about either side. When the purpose is to inform the reader, you have a responsibility to provide accurate information with credible sources.
Be fair in a world full of bias
Bias is everywhere, but it doesn’t have to be in your writing. Our words matter and how we represent a topic is going to impact the reader. To avoid biased writing, always pay attention to the language you’re using. Know the difference between the facts and your opinion- and make sure your reader does too.