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Special Collections For assistance with primary sources related to:
540-828-8018 Stephanie Gardner
When you are researching information, especially from a controversial topic, you will discover that many authors present very different information on the same topic. To understand the accuracy of these sources, you need to identify any biases that the authors may have toward the subject matter.
Bias isn't necessarily a bad or negative aspect. It simply means that the author is taking a certain perspective in regards to the information. Though, understanding this perspective can ultimately help you decide whether the author can be a trusted source. If you are trying to report on the multiple sides of an argument, you may find yourself having to identify the various sides of the argument, so this guide will come in handy in this situation as well.
When you are trying to identify the bias or perspective of an author, whether it is a book or journal article, you may need to do a little more research and answer a few basic questions:
1. Can you find any biographical or professional information on the author?
Try to find out where the author works, with which organizations or associations they are affiliated, or what other type of information they have published.
2. Are they experts in this field?
It is logical for the author to be writing about this topic? Do they have an academic background or other visible authority about the topic?
3. What type of information do they cite in their book or article?
Examining the sources that they use can help discover any bias that might exist. Do recognize any of the sources as being biased? Do they gravitate towards one source type or author?
4. Who is the publisher of the work?
Try to identify the publisher or the journal that produced the article or book. Some journals or publishers are known for a particular bias or perspective. Identifying an article or book from these sources can help you identify their perspective.
Finding bias in websites can be a bit more tricky, since there is no standard format. Here are some suggestions of information to look for.
Who is the author of this information?
Can you easily discover the author (whether it is a group or individual)? What information do they present about the author? Can you find more information if you search the web for the author or group? Some authors are known to have a particular perspective on a topic or group of topics.
Why was the information presented?
Why did someone go through the trouble to put this information on the web? Do they want to report on a topic or do they want to persuade readers to adopt a particular stance?
What kind of language does the site use?
Do they use strong, defensive language? Or do they try to invoke a particular emotional response by using stereotypes or certain words or phrases?
Does the site link to others that appear to be biased as well?
How to they present this links? Are they additional sources representing the sides of a topic, or are they presented as being sources of correct or "official" information?