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ENG 112: Writing and Community

A guide with resources and information to support ENG 112.

What Is Bias?

Personal narratives are full of bias--the way we perceive the world is filtered through our personal beliefs, wants, and experiences.  Bias is an inclination towards or away from an idea or concept.  This bias influences how we tell a story.  Often, people think of bias in negative ways--prejudice, discrimination, intolerance--but bias is a little less extreme than prejudice, and it can be used in a positive way.  Persuasive speeches and narratives are all about bias coupled with facts; you are attempting to persuade people to do or think a certain way based on facts, yes--but usually these speeches are often peppered with emotional narratives, too.  Have you or someone you know received a letter in the mail from a charity asking for a donation?  Yes, they'll tell you facts about how many people are homeless or how many abused dogs they rescue in a year, but they couple this with emotional impact, using photos and stories about how "Ryan" lost his job or how "Prince", a pit bull, was tied out on a hot day with no water.  In some cases, they will ask for something specific because they want you, as their audience, to know how you can personally make a difference (for just $3 a month, you can help provide Prince with medical care and food).  You're more likely to give if you know your money is going to feed an abused dog, right?  And giving that dog a name makes it seem more personal--you're not just helping any dog, you're helping Prince.  Who wouldn't want to help a poor, defenseless dog, right?

But what if you were hurt by a dog, maybe a pit bull that looked a lot like Prince, and now you're afraid of dogs, and pit bulls in particular?  Your own bias may tell you that Prince was tied up because he's mean, even if he's really not, and you don't want to give money to an organization that helps pit bulls--or maybe even dogs in general.  Your personal bias against dogs means you probably get rid of the letter without even opening it.  Personal experiences lead to personal beliefs and bias, and that influences behavior.  





Bias and Multiple Viewpoints

When thinking about your stakeholders, keep in mind that your topic is not neutral to them--they're going to have their own opinions and viewpoints, perhaps shaped by personal experiences that may be traumatic or may be wonderful.  (Not all biases are against something--some are for something.)  Thinking about who your stakeholders are not only helps you think about the who that is impacted, but the how and the why.  This could also lead to what research you'll be looking for for your facts--do you need to look for polls or surveys?  Statistics?  Important court cases?  Past historical events that were newsworthy?  Think about your topic and ask yourself:  "If I were this person, how would this effect me?"

Let's take this meme as an example:

Meme: a fat cat is a happy cat

The first two ways I can think to approach this meme would be the pet obesity problem, and the human obesity problem.  (Remember, with animal memes, it's possible the creator is using the animal as a stand-in for a human.)  So depending on which way I go, I could choose a veterinarian or a doctor (or nurse) as a stakeholder.  What would they have to say about this?  What would, if we choose to use the human angle, an overweight person say?   Is this offensive and if so, how?  Why?  Really study your meme for both the good and bad stereotypes, prejudices, and biases, including your own.  What do you think--and how does your bias shift if you think about it in terms of the animal versus the human projection?