The Danger of Preconception

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From Robert  J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“And once a reporter thinks he is on a hot trail…it seems virtually impossible, no matter how many facts you have to present, to get him off it” (57).

As usual, I am going to relate a news writing principle to the more general principles of academic paper writing.  It would seem that sometimes journalists get a little ahead of themselves, before they have done the research.  I think this happens frequently with students (yes, even including me sometimes) when they write research papers.  They have some preconceived idea in their head and they research around this idea.  If there are two articles that agree with them and 30 that disagree, they will ignore the majority and just focus on the minority that supports their opinion.  This is easier to do and it challenges your beliefs less.  This is part of the reason why I like doing research before I have too solidly entrenched myself in my thesis.  The real skill is being open-minded and paying attention to everything that is out there.  Once you’ve taken a look at everything out there and carefully thought about it, now you can consider what angle you want to take.  But even when you have picked your angle, you can’t ignore the opposition.  You need to address it.  In a research paper you need to explain why they are wrong and your side is right.  It’s the same type of thing in a newspaper article (minus the explaining why you’re right).  You need to interview the opposition and the side you feel is “right”.  When a reporter begins writing an article from a “’preconceived thesis’” (57), nothing good is going to come from it.  Just as in academic papers this type of blind conviction frequently leads us away from the really good, complex paper, this type of reporting results in articles on “non-news” and articles with skewed “frames” (58).  Do your research and don’t avoid any side.

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2 Comments

Richelle Dodaro said:

This is so true, Greta! I liked how you related this concept to academic paper writing. I find myself coming up with my thesis first and then doing the research. While sometimes I think that by coming up with your thesis first means the idea is more original, I also realize that with research, the idea is probably much more informed and bound to be "fair" in a sense. Not that academic writing needs to be "fair," it's more making sure you thoroughly argue your point and against opposing views, as you know.

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