One aspect of reading that my students seem to struggle with consistently is telling the difference between facts and opinions. This post will attempt to explain the often subtle difference between these two components of reading.
A fact is something that can be verified as true by someone else. This truth can be tested through observation, experimentation, experience or some other means. Below is an example of a fact.
The average temperature of the human body is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit
To test this fact, we can simply take the temperature of several individuals and see if the average temperature is the same. If our experiment matches the statement then the statement is a fact.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The opposite of a fact is not an opinion. The opposite of a fact is incorrect information. If I said that the average temperature of the body was 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Your analysis would disprove this and show that the information was incorrect. This confusion over facts and incorrect information is a common misconception of even university students.
Opinions are statements people make about their beliefs and or judgments. They cannot be tested and verified as facts can. Below is an example of a opinion.
I believe that America is the best place to study English.
There is no real way to verify this opinion. There are many English speaking countries all over the world where a student can study English. Determining how one is better than the other is highly subjective.
One problem with the opinion statement is the word “best.” How do you judge what is best? Another problem is the phrase “I believe.” What one person believes is different from what another person believes. How do we test this?
Since opinions cannot be verified they can only be supported with additional explanation and facts. An author can build a persuasive case for their opinion through providing evidence that supports their belief. Consider the following example
I believe that America is the best place to study English. A study done by Researcher’s Anonymous found that people who study English in America learn twice as fast as those who study in other countries. In another study conducted by Student University it was found that people who study English in America have a higher proficiency in the four skills of a language when compared internationally. Therefore, not only do people learn English faster in America, they also develop a higher proficiency from studying in that country.
In this fictitious example, the author shares their opinion that America is the best place to study English. He follows this by sharing to facts about English. The study by Researcher’s Anonymous and the study at Student University. The results of these two studies are “facts” in this example because they can be verified. The facts the author uses provide support for their opinion.
You cannot prove an opinion but you can indicate how reasonable an opinion is through the use of facts. Based on the two facts of the study, it appears that America might be a good place to study English.
Students struggle with facts and opinions. They often accept everything an author shares in a book as the truth when in reality the author is sharing a great deal of well-defended opinion. Understanding facts and opinions is critical in analyzing the strength of an individual’s argument.