Distinguishing between fact and opinion is important for students to understand. This Libguide uses many examples to help students tell the difference between the two.
When you are reading, it is important to be able to distinguish between facts and opinions. Written materials such as articles, web site information, biographies, and newspapers often contain both facts and opinions. Being able to tell them apart will help you judge the validity of a writer’s ideas. It will also help you choose appropriate sources when doing research.
Social networks, Twitter included, tend to be modes of personal expression. They also are a platform for sharing news and information. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate personal expression from news/information reporting. To use Twitter effectively for information, users must be actively critical of the posted content.
A fact is verifiable. We can determine whether it is true by researching the evidence. This may involve numbers, dates, testimony, etc. (Ex.: "World War II ended in 1945.") The truth of the fact is beyond argument if one can assume that measuring devices or records or memories are correct. Facts provide crucial support for the assertion of an argument. However, facts by themselves are worthless unless we put them in context, draw conclusions, and, thus, give them meaning.
An opinion is a judgment based on facts, an honest attempt to draw a reasonable conclusion from factual evidence. (For example, we know that millions of people go without proper medical care, and so you form the opinion that the country should institute national health insurance even though it would cost billions of dollars.) An opinion is potentially changeable--depending on how the evidence is interpreted. By themselves, opinions have little power to convince. You must always let your reader know what your evidence is and how it led you to arrive at your opinion.
Unlike an opinion, a belief is a conviction based on cultural or personal faith, morality, or values. Statements such as "Capital punishment is legalized murder" are often called "opinions" because they express viewpoints, but they are not based on facts or other evidence. They cannot be disproved or even contested in a rational or logical manner. Since beliefs are inarguable, they cannot serve as the thesis of a formal argument. (Emotional appeals can, of course, be useful if you happen to know that your audience shares those beliefs.)
(Adapted from: Fowler, H. Ramsey. The Little, Brown Handbook. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986.)
A fact is a statement that can be proven or checked. A fact may include supporting evidence, such as statistics or quotations from a recognized expert.
An opinion is a statement that tells what the writer thinks, believes, or feels about a subject. It cannot be proved true or false. Look for some of these words to signal an opinion: according to, I think, in my opinion, perhaps, seem, ought to, should, must, bad, good, better, worse, excellent, terrible. A writer may use words that appeal to the reader’s emotions. A statement that you agree with is not necessarily a fact.