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ENG 190: Research and Persuasion

This guide will help students taking ENG 190 with their research.

Bias, Defined

According to the AllSides Red Blue Dictionary:

This word has largely come to be seen as something negative - reflecting the undue influence of any sort of prejudice over our judgment or decision making. Since this influence is understood to distort that judgment and decision making, the goal is often taken for granted as to become free of bias" or "unbiased" in our assessments of the world around us.

This word "unbiased" is thus often synonymous with "objective" and "neutral." Out of this view, accusations of political bias are often made as an attack on various news networks or others presuming some kind of objectivity or neutrality - e.g., scientists and scholars.

From another perspective, some sort of standpoint or bias is an inherent and innate feature of the human mind - and something that literally cannot be "escaped" or "shelved." If that is true, some would argue this "bias against bias" may cause problems by pressing people to not acknowledge their biases and pretend they do not exist. As an alternative way to seek fairness and objectivity, diverse voices may be invited to acknowledge their biases in an open, transparent way that allows a discussion to be aware of what informs it.

It is important to be able to identify bias, especially when writing for a key audience in mind. One useful tool that can help is the Media Bias Chart, which provides a ranking system of bias level in hundreds (if not thousands) of media sources. This might be able to help you in determining a neutral source from one that may be trying to persuade. Click around and see if any of the chart positions surprise you!

Bias: It's Everywhere!

Whether we like to admit it or not, everyone has some sort of bias simply from being exposed to the beliefs and ideals of the environment in which they were raised. Taken a step further, what is now known as filter bubbles or echo chambers can limit the information that can even reach you in the virtual world. Below is a Ted Talk by Eli Pariser, who was one of the first people to recognize and name this phenomenon:

SIFT: A Way to Check Your Bias

While you're researching, practice SIFT to check the validity of a source:

  • Stop
    • Do you know the website or source of information? What is the reputation of both the claim and the website? If you don't have that information, use the next moves to get a sense of what you are looking at. 
    • What is your purpose? If you just want to repost, read an interesting story, or get a high level explanation of a concept, it probably good enough to find out whether the publication is reputable. If you are doing serious research, you might want to chase down individual claims and verify them independently.
  • Investigate the source
    • What do you already know about the website this article comes from?
      • It's a reliable, trusted news source-go ahead and read the article.
      • Don't know? Keep sifting...
    • Who wrote it? Would you consider them an authority on the topic?
      • Yes? Go ahead and read the article!
      • No? Seek out another source.
  • Find trusted coverage
    • Are there other articles that support and affirm the information in this article?
      • Yes! Bookmark them all-you will need them later.
      • No? Seek out a different article. 
  • Trace claims, quotes and media back to the original context
    • Is the article, video, research or image you're looking at original (not reposted)?
      • No? Track down the original source (or sources) instead!
      • Yes? Go ahead and read or watch the resource and gather information.
    • Is what your looking at the entire work, video, research study (not edited version)?
      • No? Track down the original source (or sources) instead!
      • Yes? Go ahead and read or watch the resource and gather information.