Tips for Writing: Fact vs. Opinion
Information is regarded as one of the most highly valued resources found on the planet today. Often, the organization with the most reliable information comes out ahead in whatever endeavor in which the organization is specialized. Information can be separated into two categories: fact and opinion. The real question is, however, what differentiates fact and opinion?
Fact can be defined generally as a piece of information that has an objective reality. This means that information presented in an unbiased way that stands up under scrutiny can be regarded as fact. Because factual information is verifiable under unbiased scrutiny, it can be generally regarded as truth. Facts are outright statements of observable truths, such as the sky is blue. This indisputable as anyone can look up into the sky and see that it is blue. Further, to silence any possible criticism of this statement, science has verified that the molecules that form our atmosphere reflect blue light-giving the sky its blue color.
Opinion is defined as a view, judgment, or appraisal that is formed in one’s mind. Further, an opinion is a belief that is stronger than an impression but less strong that positive knowledge, or a generally held view. Opinion is the prevalent force behind much of the information that governs the majority of the interactions that occur in the daily lives of people. This information type is not necessarily based on objective informational analysis. Rather, opinion is subjectively based; therefore, governed by perception rather than stone cold fact. We see opinions on the news, in political and religious discourse, and in our everyday work environments. Everyone has an opinion and many times these are not solidly based in fact, rather they are based upon individual perception.
At what point does an opinion become fact? The scientific method is useful for explaining this phenomenon. Within this method, a researcher makes an observation. Then, he or she forms an opinion of what the root cause of the observation is. This opinion is then tested. If it stands up under scrutiny, can be repeated, and is verified by third-party sourcing, the opinion then can be generally stated as a fact.
At this point, fact an opinion seem extremely straight forward. The bigger question within the difference between fact and opinion is whether the line that separates the categories is black and white or is it something altogether different? Does the possibility exist that the line between these two categories of information is actually blurred? In many cases of fact, such as in the example of the blue sky, the evidence can be verified on a widely accepted level, but has there ever been a time where perceived fact has been proven wrong?
Aristotle theorized that the Earth was the center of the universe. He supported his theory with seemingly verifiable evidence going as far as to explain the rotation of the Sun, Moon, and stars around the Earth. His geocentric model was accepted as scientific fact until his theory was disproved after the invention of the telescope and the introduction of the heliocentric model of the universe. This irrevocably changed scientific fact into an outdated opinion.
The line between fact and opinion is one that is crossed everyday in every conversation and human interaction that occurs in our world. While fact can be obviously defined in some cases, fact and opinion blur together on subjects that cannot be conclusively verified. Where fact ends and opinion begins must be scrutinized on a case by case basis.
Graff, G., Birkenstein, C., & Durst, R. (2009). The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say I say (, pp. 463-481). New York: W.W. Norton & Company .