Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Editing Tip: Watch for Bias in Your Writing

Is there such a thing as unbiased writing?

No matter how careful a writer is at trying to be neutral, there will be some bias. Behind every piece, every story, every plot twist is a person with beliefs, passions, and motives—and these can never be truly erased from their writing. However, neither should they be. The biases make each document unique and present an opportunity for readers to see things from someone else's perspective.

The key is for writers to recognize their biases and readers to identify them so that each goes into the exchange with an understanding of what the biases are.

With that being said, writers should still be careful about how they present their biases.

Too much overt bias in your writing will hurt your reputation with your readers, causing them to doubt your ability to analyze the facts in an even semi-objective way. For readers, it doesn't matter how valid your point is—if it's drenched in biased language (particularly a bias they don't agree with), it won't get read.

The first step is identifying your bias.

Take a look at your writing and your motivations for writing. Admit what your bias is (for example, you love snakes or you hate banks) and read through your document to see if anything in it overtly screams this bias. Using our two examples, a bias in the first piece could be not correctly representing the dangers involved with owning a snake and a bias in the second could be using extreme and derogatory language in describing bank practices.

Next, rewrite the ideas presented, deleting or revising the bias.

Again going back to our examples:

  • Owning a precious pet snake is the absolute best decision a person could ever make—there are absolutely no downsides!
    becomes
    Owning a pet snake can be a great decision—it's absolutely the best one I've ever made!
  • That dirty, thieving bank completely shook me down and hung me out to dry—and all I wanted was to open a second checking account!
    becomes
    I was completely surprised at the behavior of my previous bank—the (what I thought would be simple) decision to open a second checking account turned into a fee and charges flurry of misinformation.
Notice how I deleted extreme words (precious, dirty, thieving), added in personal words to identify the bias (best decision I've ever made, I was completely surprised), and added more information to clarify a biased point (fees and charges).

Bias is not wrong. Just make sure you and your readers are able to recognize the bias for what it is and do your best to let the facts speak louder than your bias.

You can find more examples and types of bias at this article, "How to Use Bias in Your Writing."

Of course, bias is an oft-debated topic, so what do you think? Can writing ever be completely bias free?

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