The short answer is, yes it is.  In fact, some academic writers will tell you that every source is biased on some level!

As an academic writer, you are expected to:

  • Tackle complicated topics, where even experts disagree.
  • Examine these topics from many perspectives.
  • Read and engage with sources that reflect these perspectives.

To do this, you will need to use sources by authors with opinions, agendas and points of view. 

Step 1: Identify the bias

What?How?
Find out as much as you can about the author/creator/publisher of the source.
  • Examine the source.  Make a note of the author or creator's name. 
  • Make a note of the publisher or the organization responsible for the source.
  • Find the About page (on a website) or read the preface or bookflap (in a book) to figure out how the person and/or organization describes their purpose.
Do not rely on what they tell you -- do some additional research.
  • Look up the publication, author or organization in Wikipedia.
  • Google the person or organization to see if you can find others talking about them.
  • Check claims by using fact-checking sites like Politifact (for political or current event questions) or Snopes.

 

 Step 2. Analyze your rhetorical situation

Think about your message -- what claim(s) are you making?ExampleThink about your evidence -- what will help you make that claim?

 

Are you making a claim about a fact?

 

Oregon State University was founded in 1868. (Source: OSU Website)
  • Using a source that attempts to be neutral and objective (like a reference book, an encyclopedia or a dictionary) can be helpful.  
  • Use facts defined by acknowledged experts..  
  • Analyze the specific fact and determine if the bias is likely to affect how it was presented.

 

Are you making a claim that there is consensus around an issue?

 

Food safety experts agree that food must be cooked long enough and hot enough to kill harmful bacteria to be safe. (Source: USDA)
  • Use a source that is intended to provide an overview of the entire discussion or debate.  People who are strong advocates for a particular point of view may not be able to accurately describe consensus, if that consensus disgrees with their position.
  • Appeal to recognized authorities on the topic.
  • If an advocate acknowledges that they are in the minority, and that the consensus is on the "other" side -- that could be used as a reason to accept the claim. ("Even those who believe X say Y is more common...")
Are you making a claim about a specific perspective on a topic?

 

Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that focus on digital civil liberties, believe that real-name policies like Facebook's put certain groups at significant risk.  (Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation)
  • Use a biased source that represents/reflects that perspective if you are making a descriptive claim.  
  • Be careful -- if you are making an evaluative claim (saying a perspective is good or bad) then using a biased source without additional research is problematic.

 

 Step 3. Integrate your analysis into your paper