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Writing for an Audience

Question

How do I know if informative writing is biased?

2 years ago

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Claire Klein


14 Answers

Emily B Profile Picture
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There are clues ... look out in particular for strong adjectives that could give away the writer's opinion.


https://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/index.html


Take a look at this Daily Mail report, using metaphors of the Tory "Blue Army" imaging great military power with an election win. A simple informative report would not use metaphors and strong adjectives like this - it would simply say the facts - that the Tories won the seat by X many votes.

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Liz C

Hello Claire,

A very good question. To identify whether a piece is biased you need to consider 1) it's purpose 2) it's context and 3) who is writing the piece can also be a clue.

1) Purpose - Is it designed to persuade the reader to take action? e.g support a campaign

2) An article on Vegan lifestyle published in a Fieldsports magazine discussing the pressure from an Anti-Bloodsports Group would be an entirely different context to one in a recipe book perhaps?

3) Using the above example ; if written by a Game Dealer or a Vegan chef the bias may well be visible.

as well as strong adjectives, look for emotive language e.g ' helpless creature ' as opposed to ' harvest ready gamebird' .

Andrea P Profile Picture
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You could ask yourself the following:

  1. Does the article express an opinion on the topic - something is right/wrong, good/bad, etc? If it does, does it acknowledge both what is good AND bad? Only expressing something as fully good or bad, or right or wrong might be a clue it is biased.
  2. how many sources (people, books, research, experiments, examples) does it refer to? Generally speaking if they only seem to use one source of information they are more likely to be biased, where someone who considers a wide variety of sources for their information is more likely to be unbiased.
  3. Consider purpose- Are they trying to persuade or argue? If so, then go back to point one and consider whether they acknowledge more than one opinion. Look to see if they acknowledge or refute counter arguments.
  4. These are just a few things to consider

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Mathew P

All writing is very rarely 100% objective. Inevitably the writer’s opinions or views will be reflected to a greater or a lesser extent. This is not wrong. It is just something to always be mindful of.

Elizabeth V Profile Picture
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To know if a piece of writing, in general, is biased you need to look at all the information you have. Who was it written by? When was it written? What were the reasons it was written? Is it writing from a particular perspective? Has it got balanced arguments or is it just arguing from one side? Once you've asked yourself these questions it's usually quite easy to see whether it is biased and then from here you can delve deeper into the language used to pinpoint exactly why that is.

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Janvier Nkurunziza

You know informative writing is biased if the author is not included or it is not referenced, among other things.

Helena M Profile Picture
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It is difficult to avoid bias altogether in writing as the writer will convey their own style through their words and will often share their opinions implicitly however much they intend to avoid this. Nevertheless, when writing an informative piece it is important to avoid sharing any heavily opinionated or one-sided viewpoints or sharing unsupported or unsubstantiated claims. Facts need to be balanced throughout the piece and opinions should not be disguised as facts. If your writing includes any of these then review it or have a third party review it and share their honest feedback with you. This will help to avoid any unwanted biases.


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There are multiple methods to detect bias in an informative text.


One method is misleading facts. For example, "90% of doctors say eating vegetables is actually bad for you". This sounds like it is backed by intelligent people, however, you do not know who these doctors are, how many there are, or what they actually said.


Another is using biased language, which is usually overdramatic and emotionally charged. If someone says "People who ride their noisy bikes on Green Road completely disregard common decency in residential areas", they have described the bikes as noisy and "completely disregard" with no actual evidence to support this. You could rephrase it as "Some people allegedly drive noisy bikes on Green Road, which concerns those who live in residential areas", as it is merely describing the fact there are some potential complaints.


A biased text may not use actual evidence, rather, appeals to common assumptions or emotional judgments. For example, "everyone knows people from that town don't wash" has no basis in reality whatsoever unless proven otherwise.


A final method is that you should pay attention to where and who is writing the text. If it is an article on the environment but is being published on an Oil company's blog, then it is most likely biased. Similarly, if the writer is a big fan of driving cars, then they may not take environmental concerns of pollution as seriously.

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Gloria N Profile Picture
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My motto is "The more you know about the world, the easier to navigate

Biased informative writing has a lot of informal imperative wording, overly described subjects or events, generalisations of people or subjects and lastly if the author inserts their own opinions with sentences such as "in my opinion.." promoting a single viewpoint. Such Texts are not accredited most of the time and you should be careful when referencing them in your assignments because they might be allowed or recognized.

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Angus F Profile Picture
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Informative writing can be biased or unbiased. The use of language is simpler in biased informative writing. Unbiased informative writing involves the use of extra wording to present in a way that makes it clear that the writer is giving observations, not opinions. Bias is opinions.

Let's consider a boy and a girl both struggling over a skipping rope as an excample. A biased journalist-like report by either the boy or girls family would use opinion-based and definitive language such as 'He confronted her and proceeded to take the rope' or 'Her skipping-rope was snatched away from her by the boy'

An unbiased informative reprt would be objective, in other words not involve opinion, but rather observations. It might read ''The skiping rope', not 'his' or 'her' skipping-rope.' Unbiased writing style is neutral on the subject. Sport is a good excample. Imagine two super-fan supporters of different teams writing about the same incident. They would both be biased in the language used. A neutral observer would use more careful wording.

Below are two sentences. One is biased, the other is unbiased. Which is which? Then can you make a biased and then unbiased informative sentence from thefollowing options. Use differnt kinds of words. Think about what kinds of points to make.


Green apples are more delicious that red apples/More people prefer green to red apples.


  1. The speed that a tree grows.
  2. Summer being better than winter.
  3. Harry Potter being more intelligent than the queen.






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The best way to tell is to simply look at the argument and decide if its one sided.


A biased argument will only focus on one point of view. It will use sources that back up its argument only.


An unbiased argument would focus on multiple points of view and opinions. It will also use multiple sources and arguments to give a clearer picture of what is going on.


Lets put this as an example question. Is immigration a good thing?


An example of a biased argument could be a person only focusing on the negative impacts that immigration can have. It has an anti immigrant stance and is essentially trying to convince others that immigration is a bad thing. Its uses nothing but sources and data that reinforce to readers that immigration is bad. (its biased)


An example of an unbiased argument could be a person looking at why immigration could be a good thing and why it could be a bad thing. The important thing here is that the argument is balanced. It looks at sources and information that are both positive and negative. It then also debates and has the argument. This allows the reader to make a more informative decision on the question asked.


To really determine if something is biased you need to look at who writes it, what other arguments are out there and if they have considered them to draw a conclusion that is based on evidence or fact.

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Georgia Evans

In order to discern whether informative writing is biased, it's important to consider three key aspects: The author, the main narrative, and the sources.


Firstly, who is the author of the writing piece? If it is an organisation, which organisation is it? Is it possible the individual / organisation is belonging to a certain group, or is part of a wider collective with a specific motive? This will help you to understand why the author has written the piece, and whether they may have a specific agenda that has guided the direction of their writing.


Secondly, assess whether the piece includes a balanced argument. Does the narrative appear to be one sided? Does the writer use clear points, reliable evidence and thorough explanation to explore their argument; fully exploring contradicting points and evidence? An unbiased piece of informative writing does not appear to argue for one specific point of view, instead favouring a balanced argument that critically outlines the key concepts.


Lastly, has the author highlighted the origination of their sources? Where has the information they have used come from? This may point towards allegiance towards a certain cause or organisation. The broader the list of resources used, the better chance there is of the piece remaining unbiased due to a wider perspective. Ensure resources used are varied and reliable in order to ensure a lack of perpetuation of a specific ideological standpoint.

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Bias exists in different aspects of writing and inquiry. It is important to separate out bias in informative writing, which may be as a result of inaccuracy or lack of detail, from bias say in an opinion column, which is the result of a writer's own unique viewpoint. Not all bias is the same. One may happen due to factual error, and is negative, whilst the other lends credibility to an argument through personal knowledge, experience and judgement. It is important to ensure that we understand the meaning of the terms we are using. Is this particular case we also need to understand the kind of text under consideration.


So, bias in this case means something particular because the writing is meant to inform.

Informative writing takes different types, from instruction manuals, to academic journals, to encyclopedias. We can find it on IKEA leaflets and shampoo bottles, and in cookbooks. Essential to all these forms is accuracy and detail. Informative writing is unhelpful and may be dangerous if it's content is misleading or if it lacks clear simple instructions. How do we check for this and so increase our confidence in what we're being told?


There are three areas to think about: accuracy of facts and statistics; trustworthiness of source; simplicity and clarity.


It is sometimes a simple exercise to check the facts and statistics used in information writing, although it can be time consuming. In public life, the amount of fact checking involved to feel confident about any particular claim, in advertising, social media, news outlets, political debate etc., can be over whelming, and facts of course will be used selectively and contain their own bias. None the less with Just a rudimentary grasp of a debate or issue, bias and inaccuracy can be spotted, and one error will begin to undermine the credibility of a whole piece. Check the more extreme claims, such as a 25% improvement in performance (against what baseline measurement). Look for inconsistencies and contradictions, and be alert for the kind of language which obscures or manipulates rather than being helpful.


The trustworthiness of a source is a different kind of approach. There are many different voices vying for our attention. Which ones are credible? A credible source of information is one which carries authority, a public body, or professional organisation, or figure of recognised standing in a particular field. For example, health advice from the NHS is probably going to be more authoritative than an online site run by people with a vested interest in selling goods or services. This is not always the case of course, but this is where triangulation comes in. Always cross check your information against a range of credible sources. Do this with me, now. I'm one source of information, a teacher, but a range of other voices exist, libraries, universities, government outlets, all providing the kind of secure areas of knowledge that will allow you to exercise your own judgement. Checking against primary source material, is a key feature of research and something that will be important at university and the world of work beyond. The most credible sources fact check themselves first, and this is particularly true with academic journals which are peer reviewed before publication, giving them high ranking in the credibility stakes.


Simplicity and Clarity carry a great deal of philosophical importance when evaluating information. Simplicity and truth are connected in Ockham's Razor (fact check it). Broad, generalised comments are not helpful and can be misleading. This is more about guidance than bias but bias certainly comes into it, particularly if there is an intention on the writer's part to deceive. Consider the way large generalised statements are used in political manifestos or in pushing the interests of one washing powder over another. The more general and the less detailed, the greater the danger of bias. Think also of what is useful. Wet hair and apply liquid, doesn't tell you very much about how to use a product. This is not so much bias as sloppy writing. Always ask, who is speaking, for what purpose and who is the text aimed at. It will help establish how clear the text is. The more clarity the greater the knowledge imparted.


Not one of these three areas can establish bias alone but taken together they will help you understand authority in a piece of informative writing. How far you would go depends on the importance of the information you are checking. As with most things in life we check further with the important issues and not so far with the others. A final example, and one which is common in explanations such as these, is a cookbook. A chef will employ a range of different people to objectively fact check their weights and measures and go through the steps in the process. They are normally experts in their field and the recipes are written in a simple and clear way. Clarity is an art and a skill and it requires a great deal of effort of thought to achieve. If you don't believe me, then try it. Take a simple recipe you are familiar with and write with authority, free from bias and inaccuracy and then get someone else to try the recipe out for you. Action is the best teacher of authority.



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This is a great critical thinking question Claire! And a really important one to keep coming back to. There is not one definitive aspect of a piece of writing that can tell you whether a piece of writing is biased, but there are things you can look for to help you make a decision.


There are broadly two types of bias. Informational bias skews the data that a piece of writing is founded on, presentational bias is how the data is written up to try and persuade the reader towards a certain viewpoint.


Informational bias usually happens when the data in research doesn't reflect what's happening in real life. This can be done intentionally but it's also often accidental. It's increasingly becoming a problem in the algorithms that run AI programmes for example an algorithm that was supposed to detect skin cancers started saying that any picture of skin with a ruler in it was cancerous. This was because lots of the medical photographs which programmers showed to the algorithm as examples of skin cancer had a ruler in them for scale (You can read about this and similar issues in The Alignment Problem by Brian Christiansen). Spotting informational bias can be difficult but it's important to ask yourself:

  • If the data this writing is based on isn't visible, have they cited it? Has the writer made it easy for readers to find? Might there be a reason they don't want their readers to check it?
  • If the data is visible, do you think it's reflective of "real life"? For example if they surveyed a group of people for their opinion, are those opinions coming from a range of ages/races/genders?


Presentational bias is easier to spot when you know the signs, although it can take a bit of digging. Writers tend to write what their readers want to see, so if this publication is aimed towards a particular group, writers might try to present their findings in a way they think will be well-received. Do not make the mistake of thinking any "reputable publication" is immune to bias somehow. Newspapers for example, are all businesses which means their goal is to make money. Lots of politicians are very aware of this and will exert control over the media to further their own agendas. Even in scientific journals, research costs money and that money has to come from somewhere which can influence the kinds of research that is done and how their findings are presented. It's worth considering the source of the information, but it's often more prudent to analyse the language they're using. I would always look at the following two things

  • Social Actor Analysis - This is looking at how people are presented. When Theresa May was prime minister a lot of her decisions were unpopular with the public but she would phrase them as "We, the British people have decided to..." by using the inclusive first person pronoun "we" she could make it sound as though it was a collective decision. Lots of newspapers also use metaphor to dehumanise certain groups so that their readers won't care about them so much. When newspapers describe "floods" or "waves" of migrants for example, this gives the reader an image of one overwhelming mass instead of a group of individuals. You can read an open access journal all about this here.
  • Social Action Analysis - This is about how the actions of social actors are portrayed. Looking at adverbs can be really helpful here, was an action decisive? Immediate? Considered? The verbs themselves can also be a good clue. Think about how there are multiple ways of saying the same thing, meaning that our choices are meaningful.


Writing is a human endeavour (even ChatGPT is made up of the writing of real people!) which means no piece of writing can be said to be completely without bias, however hopefully this will have given you some things to think about next time you consider a source and how trustworthy it is. The most important thing is to get your data from as many sources as possible and state clearly how and where you think they could be biased.

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