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Opinion or Fact Help

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Introduction to Opinion or Fact

"Too often we … enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."

—John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States (1917–1963)

Lesson Summary

One of the keys to effective critical thinking and reasoning skills is the ability to distinguish between fact and opinion. This lesson will show you the difference—and why it matters.

If you've ever watched the popular TV series CSI, you know that the investigators on the show rely heavily on evidence to prove their theories and solve their cases. What does this mean? It means that before they point any fingers, they use scientific proof to justify their claims.

As a viewer, you may have an opinion as to who committed the crime in question—that is, you may believe it was one character over another. But according to the crime scene investigators, who did what and when is a matter of fact. That is, with enough evidence, they don't believe—they know—because they can prove it.

Fact vs. Opinion

Before we go any further, let's define fact and opinion.

Facts are:

  • Things known for certain to have happened
  • Things known for certain to be true
  • Things known for certain to exist

Opinions, on the other hand, are:

  • Things believed to have happened
  • Things believed to be true
  • Things believed to exist

Essentially, the difference between fact and opinion is the difference between believing and knowing. Opinions may be based on facts, but they are still what we think, not what we know. Opinions are debatable; facts usually are not. A good test for whether something is a fact or opinion is to ask yourself, "Can this statement be debated? Is this known for certain to be true?" If you can answer yes to the first question, you have an opinion; if you answer yes to the second, you have a fact. If you're not sure, then it's best to assume that it's an opinion until you can verify that it is indeed a fact.

Fact: based on what is known

Opinion: based on what is believed

Why the Difference between Fact and Opinion Is Important

When you're making decisions, it's important to be able to distinguish between fact and opinion—between what you or others believe and what you or others know to be true. When you make decisions, assess others' arguments, and support your own arguments, use facts, as they generally carry more weight than opinions. For example, if I try to convince my boss that I deserve a raise and I use facts to support my argument, I'm much more likely to get that raise than if I simply use the opinion, "I think I deserve one." Notice the difference between the following two examples:

  • "I really think I should get a raise. It's about time, and I deserve it. I've earned it."
  • "I really think I deserve a raise. I've met all of my production goals since I've been here, my evaluations have been excellent, and I was employee of the month."

Notice in the second example, facts support the opinion that "I deserve a raise."

Furthermore, distinguishing between fact and opinion is important because people will often present their opinions as fact. When you're trying to make big decisions or solve complex problems, you need to know that you're working with evidence rather than emotions.

Tip

Being aware of facts and opinions when you talk to others can help you get more familiar with them. Be sure that when you are sharing your opinions with friends, family or co-workers, to couch those statements with phrases such as "I've heard," "In my opinion," "I've been told," "I think" or "I believe." This way your thoughts are not projected as truths.

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