[DOC] Author`s Tone, Purpose and Bias

Liberal Arts Seminar
The following suggested activities can be adapted to the readings that support the content of your course, but
you might rather use the exercises as they are presented in the books listed on the bibliography sheet. Your
students may need frequent exposure to the following concepts to develop proficiency.
The Author’s Tone and Purpose
Discuss “tone and purpose” and how they are determined by the audience that the author wants to reach. Read
brief selections illustrating various tones and purposes. Help the students to understand that some tones are
objective, while others are subjective. (For passages that describe and illustrate various tones and purposes
consult the books listed in the bibliography.)
Suggested activity: Assign readings to small groups of students. Ask them to discuss the passages and answer
the following questions:
What is the main idea of this paragraph?
What is the author’s purpose – to inform, to entertain, or to persuade?
What is the author’s tone?
What words or phrases suggest the tone?
Distinguishing Fact and Opinion
The books by Henry, McWhorter, Smith, and Smith and Morris include a rather thorough coverage of this topic,
with various exercises, quizzes, lists of “biased words” and “words that qualify ideas,” etc.
As you discuss “fact” and “opinion,” include examples of words that indicate opinions, such as best, worst, great,
tragically, beautifully, possibly, only, seem, sometimes, could, should, etc.
Class Activity: Give students a list of statements that include both facts and opinions. Ask students to label each
statement F or O. (Some statements might contain both, as in “The grasslands of the American West
were tragically plowed under for crops.”) Discuss the results with the class.
Group Activity: Assign various types of readings that include both facts and opinions. (Each group could have a
different reading.) Ask the groups to read their passage and mark the sentences as fact (F) or opinion
(O) – or (F/O) if a sentence contains both, and they should be ready to explain their choices.
Note: Some authors differentiate between “informed opinions” and “expert opinions” (Henry, 385),
while others use the terms interchangeably (McWhorter, 347).
Determining the Author’s Point of View or Bias
Discuss point of view and bias with the students. (See the diagram that shows the factors that contribute to an
author’s thinking.) As a class, read and discuss a paragraph that expresses an author’s point of view, and have
the students identify the author’s choice of words and supporting statements that reveal his or her viewpoint.
Bosco and Buchner (2007) explain “point of view” and “bias” as follows:
Sometimes point of view is presented as the author’s bias. Although the words have a similar
meaning, bias often has a negative connotation that suggests a prejudice or narrow-mindedness
about the subject. Unless an author clearly states his or her point of view, the reader
determining point of view or bias must look at the choice of words and the information
Prepared by Janet Ruddy, Spring, 2010
Liberal Arts Seminar
presented as well as the background of the author. Look for the connotations and descriptive
language as you read.
It is also important to be aware of your own point of view or biases. If you hold very different
beliefs from those you are reading, you should not prejudge the material. You need to read with
an open mind to identify the facts as presented from an alternative point of view. (p. 258)
Student exercise: Choose a passage for the students to read. Before reading, discuss the author’s background,
credentials, and any other factors that would contribute to his or her point of view.
After reading the passage, ask the students to respond to questions such as:
What is the main idea?
What is the author’s point of view about this topic?
What clues helped you to identify the author’s point of view?
What is your point of view about this topic?
How does the author’s point of view differ from ______ (a person or school of
6. What is the author’s purpose – to inform, to entertain, or to persuade?
7. What is the author’s tone?
Recognizing Bias
Smith and Morris (2011, p. 412) suggest the following questions to determine bias:
Reader’s Tip: Questions to Uncover Bias
What is your opinion on the subject?
What is the author’s opinion on the subject?
What are the author’s credentials for writing on the subject?
What does the author have to gain?
Does the author use facts or opinions as support?
Are the facts selected and slanted to reflect the author’s bias?
McWhorter (2008, p.387) offers the following list of questions to detect bias:
Is the author acting as a reporter – presenting facts – or as salesperson – providing only favorable
Does the author feel strongly about or favor only one side of the issue?
Does the author seem to be deliberately creating a positive or negative image?
Does the author seem emotional about the issue?
Are there other views toward the subject that the writer does not recognize or discuss?
Group Assignment: Use an editorial, brief article, paragraph, or section from a textbook that illustrates biased
language or presents a one-sided view of an issue. Ask the students to answer questions similar to those listed
above. (If you reproduce a paragraph or passage with numbered sentences, it is easier to refer to specific
sentences in the questions and answers.)
Prepared by Janet Ruddy, Spring, 2010