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Guide: Distinguish fact from opinion

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  • Subject area(s): English language essays
  • Reading time: 2 minutes
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  • Published: June 6, 2021*
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  • Distinguish fact from opinion
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The difference between fact and opinion is not always easy to recognise in academic writing. Academic writing outside the pure sciences often includes opinion supported by argument to strengthen the claim being made. Sometimes factual data (e.g. statistics) are used in support of opinion but data of this kind may also be subject to different interpretations.

What is a fact?

A fact is something that can be verified and backed up with evidence, e.g. In 2005, Brazil and FC Barcelona star Ronaldinho was named FIFA World Footballer of The Year. We can verify these details by looking at FIFA records.

What is an opinion?

An opinion is based on a belief or view. It is not based on evidence that can be verified, e.g. Wayne Rooney is the best football player in the English Premier League. Are there players in the English Premier League who are better than Wayne Rooney?

Facts are often used in conjunction with research and study. The census (a survey of the population usually conducted by a government department) is a good example of when facts are used. These facts can be supported by information collected in the census, e.g. According to UK Government national statistics in 2004, approximately one in five people in the UK were aged under 16.

Opinions can be found in many types of writing such as a “Letter to the Editor” in a newspaper. A reader may write in with an opinion e.g. “24 hour pub licensing will ruin our community.” Another reader may write in and disagree, e.g. “24 hour licensing will stop yobbish behaviour by staggering closing hours.”

Mixing fact and opinion

Writers often mix fact and opinion. So it is not always easy to tell whether something is based on verifiable information or someone’s particular viewpoint. For this reason, it is important to read with a questioning mind. Just because someone says something is true – it doesn’t mean it is true? What do you think?

SOURCE: Open University 2011; BBC Skillswise 2011

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