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Fact Versus Opinion: Reading Comprehension Review Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Aug 24, 2011

SUPPORTING OPINIONS WITH FACTS

Part of what makes someone a good writer is the ability to support opinions with facts. To prove a point, the author needs to back up an opinion with real facts. There might be two different topic sentences stating equally valid, but opposing, opinions. As long as each opinion has facts to back it up, both opinions would be reasonable. For example, here's the opinion we just discussed, and an opposing opinion.

      Cats are good pets.
      Cats are not good pets.

We've already gone over some facts that support the first opinion. Here they are again, in case you forgot:

      Millions of people in the United States have cats.
      You don't have to walk cats.
      They give themselves baths.
      Cats are small and furry.

Now here are some facts to support that second opposing opinion:

      Cats don't normally play fetch.
      Cats can be very solitary animals.
      Many people are allergic to cats.
      Some cats may scratch up your furniture.

These are facts that support the opinion that cats aren't good pets. So, as you can see, both opinions can be supported with facts … but they're still opinions!

What would happen if a writer tried to support an opinion with other opinions? It might look something like this:

With regard to the city council's recent discussion on whether the parking lot on Main Street should be turned into a park, I'd like to say that I am heartily in favor of the transformation. Parks are beautiful. All the trees, grass, and flowers are so relaxing to look at on a sunny afternoon from the seat of a park bench, whereas the parking lot that is currently there is so ugly.

From the first sentence of the passage, we know the author is in favor of turning the parking lot into a park. But what reasons does the author give? Here's what the author uses to support the opinion that the parking lot should be a park:

      Reason #1: Parks are beautiful.
      Reason #2: Trees, grass, and flowers are relaxing to view.
      Reason #3: The parking lot is ugly.

All these reasons are opinions! Maybe some other people don't think parks are beautiful. Maybe someone with allergies couldn't relax near trees and grass. And someone might make an argument regarding the beauty of a parking lot! If each of the author's reasons can be debated, they're not such great support for his or her opinion, are they? The more factual and logical an author's reasons are, the more likely the reader will agree with the opinion. So, it just doesn't make sense to use only opinions to support an opinion! Read the following passage about constructing a new building for a local high school.

My name is Marianne Peterson, and I am a member of the PTA in our school district. I am strongly in favor of constructing a new building for the high school, mostly because the old building is just too small. However, the old building is not only too small, but also ill equipped to accommodate the needs of its students. We need to give our students a better building that is bigger andbetter equipped.

Does Marianne use facts or opinions to support her position? (If you need to, read the passage again and mark it up.) The first step is to identify her reasons. Then you can determine whether they're facts or opinions and if they strengthen or weaken her argument. Here are the two reasons Marianne gives for why she thinks the high school needs a new building:

      Reason #1: The current building is too small.
      Reason #2: The current building is ill equipped.

Now that we've identified Marianne's reasons, we need to figure out if they are facts or opinions. What do you think? Can what she said be debated? They can, so therefore, they are opinions. It's not hard to imagine that someone would argue that the current building isn't too small, the space just isn't being used wisely, the school isn't ill equipped, and that the teachers just need to make better use of what they have!

So, both of Marianne's reasons can be debated. What does this do to her argument? Well, as we saw in the park example, an argument isn't very strong if it's supported only by opinions. Imagine how much stronger Marianne's argument would be if she could prove that the current building was too small. What if she said that according to the community fire code, the building needed two exits for every hundred students and that currently there was only one exit for every hundred students? That one fact would lend a lot of weight to her argument. One good fact can make more of an impact than many opinions.

PACE YOURSELF

WRITE A LETTER to convince a friend to go to the movies with you. First, write the letter using only opinions to back up your argument. Then write the letter using only facts. Read both letters. Which seems like the stronger argument?

Now you know how to tell a fact from an opinion and how facts can support an opinion. Remember, all you have to do is ask yourself whether the statement can be debated or if it can be proven to be true. If it can be debated—if someone else could have an opposing view—then it's an opinion. If it can be proven to be true, then it's a fact.

LET'S RECAP

Knowing the difference between what's true and what isn't is vital in reading comprehension. A fact is something that can be proven to be true and isn't up for debate; an opinion is a belief that can be debated. As you read, look for facts and opinions and how the author uses them to express a main idea.

Beware of arguments supported only by opinions. When an author proposes an argument, his or her goal is to convince you to have that particular viewpoint. The best way to do this is to support the argument or claim with facts because readers will know that facts are true. Anyone can have any old opinion, but a fact is a fact. Therefore, your ability to differentiate between facts and opinions is essential to understanding the strength and validity of an argument presented to you.

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Fact versus Opinion: Reading Comprehension Review Practice Exercises

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