Whether you are reading a post on social media, an article in a magazine, or a novel in class, whoever wrote the piece that you’re reading probably has their own opinion about the subject. We all have opinions, and these opinions not only spill into the words we speak, but also seep into the words we write. That’s why it’s important for readers to be able to identify when bias is being revealed in what is read—doing so can help you as the reader to separate fact from opinion and be accurately informed on whatever topic you are researching.
Today, we’ll look into this further by identifying language that shows bias, discussing the importance of omission, and why identifying the author’s position is important for effective reading. Let’s get started.
Adjectives that an author uses can be a clear way of figuring out their stance on a subject. For example, when recalling a series of events such as the final score of a basketball game, someone may write:
The blue team beat the red team by 7 points.
This is an unbiased statement. The author tells us objectively who was playing and what happened with no opinions to be seen. In contrast, what if the author reported the same game in this way:
My favorite team, the red team, lost to the cheating blue team.
It’s pretty obvious in this sentence that the author favors the red team over the blue team. This sentence is riddled with bias because the author blatantly states their opinion about the two teams. The author also says that the blue team cheated. Now that we know that the author likes the red team more, can we believe his account that the blue team actually cheated as a fact? Has the author made himself credible? No way.
Now, what if the author wrote an account of the same game this way:
The blue team, unfortunately, beat the red team by 7 points.
In this sentence, just by adding the word unfortunately, there seems to be some bias on the author’s part. Language that conveys emotion is another means that authors use to show their position. He seems to be upset that the blue team won and not the red team. Even subtle words like this can give away an author’s opinion on a subject, so it’s important to take the weight of each word thoroughly when reading. Here’s one more example:
The red team had their victory stolen from them by the blue team.
Again, language is very important when identifying the author’s position. Instead of saying the red team lost, he chose to describe the outcome of the game as a “stolen victory”. That’s very strong language and hints at the author’s bias towards the red team since he compared their loss as being the victim of a crime.
Omitting information from a piece of writing can also be a form of bias. By leaving out information, an author can inform the reader on only what he wants us to know and therefore sway our opinion on the subject. Let’s look at a few examples:
Nicole is notorious for being late to work.
In this sentence, the reader is left to assume why Nicole is always late. Could she be a bad worker? Is she bad at time management? All we know is that she is often late and the word notorious emphasizes how this is not a positive trait for her to have. This sentence doesn’t shine a positive light on Nicole. What if the author were omitting some information? Let’s look at a similar sentence.
Nicole is notorious for being late to work because she doesn’t have a car and lives far away.
Now that we know Nicole’s circumstances, she doesn’t sound like such a bad worker, does she? The fact that she lives far away and doesn’t own a car even makes her sound like she works very hard to get to work although she’s often late. If the author didn’t share this information, we likely wouldn’t have come to this conclusion. Reading critically and finding missing pieces in an author’s narrative is an important way of identifying the author’s position.
Facts and opinions can sometimes seem very similar. That is why readers must consider the writer’s personal feelings when they wrote the piece and qualify what is credible and what should be questioned. We do this by identifying emotional language, keeping track of opinion statements, and identifying information that is omitted or not clearly stated. Doing these things can lead to meaningful discussions on the subject but also filter the relevance of the information we take in to make our comprehension of the subject clearer. Here is a short exercise to practice what we’ve gone through today.
Which sentence doesn’t show the author’s position?
- Yellow flowers are my favorite
- Yellow flowers are better than purple ones
- There were purple and yellow flowers on the lawn
- There were homely purple flowers next to the yellow ones
Thanks for watching, and happy studying!