1. Give your vocabulary a reality check — avoid adverbs and imprecision
Every time you write a word ending in -ly, pause for a moment and reflect. Adverbs inject emotion and opinion, instantly and inescapably moving your prose a step away from the hard facts.
The words many and most are red flags of uncertainty. Many has no concrete meaning. Most means “a majority of,” which covers a range from 51–99 percent of whatever we’re counting. Don’t even get me started on often, which has the dubious distinction of being meaningless and being an adverb.
When you use these words, you’re communicating that you couldn’t find a real number to support your statement or you chose not to do the research at all. Don’t take shortcuts in a world where your readers are conditioned to question everything.
2. Force yourself out of your ideological comfort zone
As part of my research for my weekly current events newsletter, I expose myself to strong opinions across the political spectrum. This helps me locate what I call the “Venn Diagram of Reality,” where opposing worldviews overlap to reveal the facts and events that aren’t in dispute.
Progressive readers will experience physical pain in their first attempt to read National Review. The same goes for conservatives reading The Nation.
If you want some serious exercise, read the magazine you disagree with most and write down all the statements you agree are true, even if you disagree with the conclusions the authors draw. Embrace the pain — it’s your mind expanding.
3. Imagine a conversation with your great-grandparents and great-grandchildren
It’s easy to dismiss your contemporary relatives — parents, children, uncles, cousins — as “conservative and crotchety” if they’re older or “liberal and reckless” if they’re younger. When you jump to a more distant generation, it helps you put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
My great-grandfather came to New York from Italy in 1901 at age 19. His occupations over the decades included “laborer” and “polisher.” How would his experience with poverty and discrimination as an immigrant shape his political views today? How would I handle his antiquated approach to issues like race and gender? A century from now, how will my great-grandchildren look back on me?
This allows us to practice seeing the world through another set of eyes without writing that person off as foolish or uninformed. The goal is to stick around long enough to understand an individual’s path to a conclusion, especially when that conclusion is different from your own.
4. Release yourself from the need for agreement and approval
Bias seems anti-social on the surface, like you’re pushing enemies away. But when you dig deeper, it’s an approval-seeking mechanism, with the goal of getting a high-five from the people who already agree with you.
The New York Times and The Washington Post know their ideal customer is progressive, and they indulge in liberal-minded analysis in part because it pays the bills. The Wall Street Journal does the same on the opposite end of the spectrum. These are not the building blocks of thoughtful debate — they’re an effort to get like-minded readers to click subscribe.
5. Respect your readers’ ability to draw their own conclusions
When I asked my readers about their biggest challenge to staying informed about current events, “bias” was their Number 1 response.
These aren’t liberals criticizing Fox News or conservatives maligning CNN. They’re regular people, reading publications targeted toward them, and recoiling from even the simplest articles because they’re jammed full of distracting, unnecessary bias. I’ve heard this from Americans on every point of the political spectrum and from readers in Europe, Australia and Asia.
It’s not the political slant of a particular publication that turns us off. It’s the fact that writers are making an unwelcome leap from telling us what happened to telling us what to think.
Your readers are honest, thoughtful, intellectual citizens of the world. They can make their own decisions, and at times you’re bound to disagree. The paradox is that the louder you yell, the farther those people fade away.
You can be bold and authentic without being biased.
When you strike that balance, you’ll also be influential rather than ignored.
Rob Howard is the author of Hiatus, a free, weekly current events briefing with no links, no likes and no distractions. In five minutes a week, you get the knowledge you need to be an informed, responsible citizen.