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COM 112 - Oral Communication: Evaluating
Sources

SIFT: Actions for Evaluation

Bias and Perspective Q&A

Q: What is bias?

A:  Bias is any judgment, argument, or conclusion that is not supported with evidence. Often bias is unintentional, sneaking in by way of human nature. When people feel strongly about a topic, they often think their opinions are facts when in actuality they are not. Sometimes bias is intentional. An author, company, or organization may want to promote or eliminate a certain opinion, product, or ideology so they manipulate the reader through word choice, tone, and omission (more below).

Q: What is the difference between bias and perspective? 

A: Bias is an opinion that is not supported with any facts or evidence, whereas perspective is an interpretive framework through which someone is analyzing an issue. Perspectives can be different, but they should be supported by factual evidence. 

Q: How can I tell if a source is biased?

A: Bias can be hard to spot. You usually won't be able to detect bias by just looking at the abstract - this is the kind of evaluation you will do as you read through and compare the sources you've collected. Even then, you often need to collect multiple sources on the same issue to determine whether bias is present. There are a few different things you can do to avoid bias:

Word Choice:

  • Look at the word choice used in the article: Does it seem over-the-top? Is it trying to evoke a certain emotion in the reader? Word choice that seems exaggerated or over dramatic may be a warning flag for bias. 

Tone:

  • Look at the tone of the article: Does it seem aggressive? Accusatory? This could also mean bias is at hand. 

Omission:

  • Has any information been purposefully omitted from the article? You may need more than one article on this topic to know for sure. Are they only presenting one side of the story? Are they blaming one party without backing it up with evidence? 

Sources:

  • Look at the sources! If it's a scholarly article, they should cite their sources. If it is a newspaper, magazine, or website, look at where the author is getting their information within the article itself. Who did they cite? Who did they interview? Are they getting their information from multiple sources or just one? If the information is coming from a limited number of sources, there may be some risk of bias. 

Purpose:

  • Understand the purpose of the source. Ask yourself if the source you're analyzing has anything to gain from promoting one side of an issue over the other. Are they simply trying to inform you? Do they want to sell you something? Are they trying to spread a certain ideology? 

Authority:

  • Look at the author of the source. Do they have credentials on this topic? Do they have anything to gain from promoting one side of an event over the other. Do they incorporate various perspectives in their article? 

WHAT is it - WHY should you believe it - WHY is it right for you now

PATS: Acronym for Evaluation indicators
Purpose Is the intent to INFORM or PERSUADE?
Authority Scholar? Journalist? Experienced in the topic? Whatever it is, what does it mean in the context of history? Of a country? Of a time period?
Timeliness Depends on your topic whether currency is important
Scope Do you want something that covers the topic broadly, specifically, or in-depth? (e.g., respectively, encyclopedias, news or scholarly articles, and books)

Where to Find the Credibility Information for Sources

How to find credibility information

Find the Wikipedia article

  • If an author or source is well-known enough, use the Wikipedia article to quickly check for background information and note any controversies.
  • The Wikipedia page of a scholarly journal is also a good quick place to check if it is peer-reviewed.

Look on the source itself for bio information

  • A journal, newspaper, magazine, book, or website likely has information on it somewhere about the author.
  • If there is no author on a website, the website assumes authorship; look for an "About" page but don't use that exclusively.

Search the author or publication online

  • Search the name of the author inside quotes, such as "Oliver Sacks."
    • Add site:edu for scholarly journal authors.
    • Add the word journalist or the name of the newspaper for journalists.
  • When there is no information about an author online, consider whether they may have died before online presence was established.

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