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Evaluating for credible, authoritative, reliable sources: Bias

Context and tips for how to evaluate sources, including web sites, so you can use credible, authoritative, reliable sources

"B" is for bias

Bias refers to a source's purpose and point of view.

Common pitfalls

Library databases:

The information is from an article in a library database. Therefore, the source must be objective!

Not so fast!

Library databases may include articles from newspapers and magazines, including opinion pieces and editorials that are written from authors' personal viewpoints.

Scratching beneath the surface:

You click on the "About" section of the source's web page where it describes itself as an "unbiased non-profit" think tank. That sounds good, but that is the source writing about itself. 

It is best to see if you can find some information about the organization somewhere else--like another web site, or a magazine or newspaper article. Does the source claim to have won awards? Look into the award and check.

Questions to ask about the bias of a source

Ask yourself these questions when thinking about if a source is biased and if that bias affects its credibility:

  1. What is the purpose of the source? Does the source promote one point of view or one agenda?
  2. If the information is found online, does the Web site have advertisements? If so, are the ads a part of or separate from the rest of the site?
  3. Does the about section provide information about where the site gets its funding? See if you can follow the money!

How do I do this?

Your tasks:

  • Read the "About" information
  • Read any information about the site's funding
  • See if you can find out what other sources have to say about the site

Remember the context!

photograph of scalesDoes it matter if the source is biased?

If you are writing a research paper about cancer treatments, you will most likely need balanced, objective information.

On the other hand...

... if you are writing an argumentative paper, you will need information about all points of view on a given topic. In this case, it's important that you recognize the bias, rather than avoid it.


Image source: "Vintage Scale Balance Balance Scale Measurement" by MamaClown is licensed under the CC0 license (public domain) 

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Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.

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