Evaluating an Author's Point of View

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Two authors have differing opinions on the same topic. Which one should you believe? This lesson details several things to look for when evaluating points of view and forming your own informed decisions.

Evaluation of Writing

Do you always, without question, believe everything you read? I hope not! For any sort of article, paper, or essay, you must be able to evaluate the author's point of view, which is the attitude or opinion on the topic. Evaluate means to assess the value of something. In this sense, when reading an opinion piece, you must decide if you agree or disagree with the writer by making an informed judgment.

Many times you will find two pieces of writing on the same topic. In this case, you must evaluate both points of view in order to judge which is stronger. Let's look at the process you should use to carefully analyze each side of the issue.

Compare the Writers

The first thing to do when you come across two pieces of writing with differing points of view is to compare the writers. This means analyzing the people who have written the arguments. Imagine you are reading two articles, both on the topic of oil drilling. One article argues that drilling for oil should be stopped because it's dangerous and harmful to the environment. The other article has the opposite point of view: it declares drilling should be increased because it's the only reliable source for energy.

The effects of oil drilling on the environment is a hot button issue in the world today.
oil drill

In order to evaluate these two points of view, look at the writers themselves. First, analyze the background, which is the personal and professional history of each writer. What sort of education has each had? Has either worked in a profession dealing with the oil industry in any way? Imagine one of these writers has a PhD in petroleum engineering, whereas the other has worked as a mechanic all his life. Which one has the educational background more likely to support his point of view on oil drilling? The first one, of course!

The second thing to consider is each writer's potential bias, which is a prejudiced or preconceived notion about something. Using the previous example, if the petroleum engineer was working for a large oil company, wouldn't he be biased in favor of oil drilling? On the same token, if the writer has lost a family member due to an oil rig accident, he or she would be biased against oil drilling. Personal biases are really important when evaluating a writer's opinion.

Similar to biases, you also want to consider personal influences, or any personal experiences that may affect a writer's opinion. Influences differ from biases as most influences are openly disclosed, whereas biases are usually not. For instance, if one writer went to an actual oil rig to report on the operation, this most certainly influences his point of view. However, he will likely openly admit to this fact in order to use his first-hand knowledge as proof of his point of view. We are all influenced by events in life, but this does not mean our point of view is tarnished. Biases usually taint the argument of the writer in a negative way, whereas influences work in favor of the writer.

Compare the Arguments

Once you have analyzed the writers, you can now get to the heart of the matter: the actual argument or point of view. When you are assessing the arguments of two pieces of writing, consider three main questions:

  • Is the point of view logical?
  • Is the point of view supported?
  • Does the argument have appropriate sources?

The first question asks if the argument is logical, or if it makes sense in the context or situation. For the oil drilling example, it's not logical for a writer to argue that drilling for oil never harms the environment. Besides being an outright lie, it is illogical to assert that interfering with any natural habitat won't affect that habitat. Instead, it would be more logical to admit that oil drilling has some harmful effects, but the benefits greatly outweigh the negative consequences.

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