Misinformation has nothing to do with your essays in school, right? Bias doesn’t play a role in the essays you read like it does in Facebook and Twitter articles. 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 and bias have 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.
How This Applies to You
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 strengthening your critical reading skills. Critical reading, one of the most important skills you learn in school, 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, you do this whenever you read for class. When you are required to write an essay on something you read for class, you’re automatically using critical reading skills.
You learn critical reading with every new text you come across. Since you first started reading, you have had to make sense of it. You read on a daily basis, whether you read social media captions or News headlines. You’re equipped to read for bias even if you’re not actively doing it.
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 Care About Bias?
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, bias 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.
How To Deal with 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.