How to Spot and Understand Bias

The Role of Misinformation in the Classroom

Misinformation has nothing to do with your essays in school, right? Every essay you write is probably about some dead author or a few articles from the internet that you don’t care about. Misinformation has nothing to do with the work you produce for your English classes in high school or college. Right?!

Wrong. In fact, misinformation is the reason you write the essays you write. Sure, you talk to your teacher and professor and they might give you a reason closely tailored to their Student Learning Outcomes, but essay-writing is essential to you developing your voice and understanding how to enter ongoing discourses.

Whether you’re writing an essay about Shakespeare or you’re writing an essay on a New York Times article from ten years ago (definitely not speaking on my own frustrating experience with the American education system), you are interacting with one of the most important skills you learn in school: critical reading. Critical reading is defined by CSU Ohio as, “a reader applies certain processes, models, questions, and theories that result in enhanced clarity and comprehension.” In other words, when you are told that you are writing an essay on a text you’re reading for class, you’re automatically employing all of the reading skills you’ve ever learned to make that process as easy as possible.

No one wants to reread the same text multiple times as if it’s the first time every time—that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to accomplish when we are working to develop incredible outlines for our budding essays. We want to work efficiently and be kind to our future selves; that means we are annotating in useful ways to clearly indicate how the text we’re reading is constructed. We want to deconstruct the text the author worked so hard to put together for us.

Why?

Every conversation in a writing and reading course comes back to the question “so what?” whether that happens in the essay we’re writing (and spoiler alert: it should always happen in the essay we’re writing) or the class we’re writing the essay for. So, what’s the purpose behind all of these essays? Why does critical readership matter?

Misinformation has become increasingly prevalent in our society and it’s convincing; anyone anywhere can put out words on the internet. Some websites are reputable, while others clearly merit further inquiry (think the National Public Radio versus Facebook). The good news is that your critical readership helps you see the difference.

But, it gets more complicated.

Spotting the difference between vetted information and demonstrably false information can sound easy when you compare reputable news sites with social media platforms; however, this gets more complicated when we take a closer look at news articles.

Bias

Everyone has it; it’s the preference of one thing over another in its most basic form. It can be difficult to keep it out of your writing when you are trying to make an argument because you likely want your audience to believe what you believe—especially when the issue is controversial. To be clear, argumentative writing is not inherently biased and, most of the time, it shouldn’t be. Instead, argumentative writing should solely focus on creating a logical flow of ideas to persuade your reader through reasoning and evidence to back that reasoning. An argument that relies on bias is weak but can still be convincing—which is the problem.