Dealing with Bias in Academic Research

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  Nov 03, 2013   Enago Academy
  : Publication Stages, Research & Publication Ethics

Bias is a huge obstacle for researchers in achieving credibility and accuracy. When allowing their personal beliefs influence their methods to attain a certain outcome, they are missing the first principle of researching: impartiality. But, can researchers avoid working with bias? Do they always have an agenda?

Let’s take a look at some tips to recognize and minimize researcher biases, in order to avoid improper procedures and unethical behaviors.

Locating Bias in Research

The amount of bias we can find depends on how susceptible is the research to personal emotions. Thus, a research in social studies is much more susceptible to bias than one in physics or medicine. Fields as sexuality, religion, education, or politics have usually a propensity to influence researchers’ procedures, due to their culture or personal beliefs. For instance, a researcher from a western non-Islamic country would probably have a certain opinion about women’s obligation to wear burqa. Bias against this fact can reduce the impartiality when researching women’s situation in some Islamic countries. Dealing with numbers and statistics is not as susceptible to bias as doing it with qualitative facts. When making qualitative researches, it is easy to make some selection, interview or measurement bias. Regardless of which topic the research is about, falling into the trap of researching biases is —relatively— easy. Below you can find some tips to follow in order to avoid biases and achieve an impartial and professional academic research.

Steps to Minimize Researcher Biases

  1. Get to know yourself: Before starting your research, take your time to study the situation. What do you want to achieve? And why? Try to discover what moves your determination in this case and if your personal beliefs and influences made you take the resolution of starting this academic research. Then, try to figure out which type of biases can compromise your research and write them down.
  2. Figure out what you don’t expect: It is a common mistake not to consider what we don’t want to achieve as bias. Make the same exercise the other way around: write down what you wouldn’t like to achieve while researching. Does it help to recognize your bias?
  3. Avoid interview bias: Outcomes of academic research are often determined by interviews’ results. Try to ensure that your questions are not steering particular responses, or making the interviewee understand the situation in a certain way.
  4. When checking interview bias, consider measurement bias as well. Checking if you are interviewing different groups of people is also particularly important. Don’t more questions to a certain group of population or leave some of them out, especially when dealing with qualitative researches.
  5. Widen your range of possibilities: Try to take in account all the possible facts, variables and ideas that can have a point in your research. Don’t forget adding exceptions: omission bias is a common mistake.
  6. Choose your vocabulary wisely: When writing, try to avoid ambiguous or too general words. For example, if your research shows that 60% of girls from 9 to 12 years old practice sports regularly, don’t write “Girls practice sports”. Be precise and focus on facts. In order to do that, avoid using too many adjectives or general nouns or pronouns.

It is especially important to avoid generalization related to certain population segments, as religious or political groups. The fact of mentioning “women”, “Christians”, “Muslims” or “disabled”, for example, is considered a clear way of showing bias. Instead of that, try to be precise: “50 years old married women”, “people who are diagnosed with a paralysis disorder”, etc. And last but not least: when your research is complete, check the notes you wrote when you started researching. How well did you manage your bias?

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