Coffee is a wonderful beverage. It has a pleasant taste, and it can help you wake up, think clearly, recover quickly after a strenuous workout, and lose weight. People who drink coffee feel good about themselves.
Not so fast, buckaroo.
Some of this may be true, but some is certainly an opinion. Here are the opinions:
- Wonderful beverage,
- Pleasant taste, and
- Feel good about themselves.
Opinions creep into our writing easily, and they can damage our relationship with the reader. When you provide opinions, you don’t respect the readers’ rights to form their own opinions from the facts. In contrast, you create the opportunity for the reader to discredit your authority.
As seen from the example above, opinions may be expressed as if they were facts. You are stating “I believe this is true.” The reader, however, may have a different opinion, in which case you will establish a confrontational relationship with the reader. Also, an astute reader will be able to separate facts from opinions. After realizing that you are expressing opinions, this reader may also reject your facts, or at least question them. In either case, you lose credibility as an authority in the subject.
Facts are superior to opinions. Provide facts and allow the reader to decide how to interpret or use them. This demonstrates respect for your reader. If the facts are valid and comprehensive, you can build a logical argument to support your main point. Present your facts well, and your reader will interpret them correctly—the same way you interpret them.
Let’s look at that example again, this time without the opinions. The point we are trying to make is that coffee is a “wonderful beverage.”
“Coffee can help you wake up, think clearly, recover quickly after a strenuous workout, and lose weight. Additionally, many people enjoy the taste of coffee and find that drinking coffee improves their mood.”
These are facts. Notice how I managed to sneak in a few personal opinions by stating them as the opinions of others, e.g., “Many people find that coffee has a pleasant taste.” In this revision, this is no longer a personal opinion. It is a fact. Many people do feel this way.
This version recognizes the readers’ rights to determine their own opinion. The readers will consider the facts and, in many cases, decide (or agree) that coffee is a wonderful beverage, which is our opinion. Also, we have not alienated those with different opinions. They can’t argue with the facts, and they are not insulted by being told that opposing opinions are wrong. We have avoided expressing our opinion, and we will keep a positive relationship with the reader.
You can express your opinions. You don’t want to do this for documents that are supposed to be objective, such as scientific papers and newspaper stories; they are not appropriate in those contexts. Determine whether or not opinions are appropriate for the document you write.
Let’s say that you determine that you can express your opinion. Here are four guidelines to prevent turning off your reader.
- State your opinions as opinions (e.g., “In my opinion . . .”).
- Support your opinions with facts (e.g., “I am of this opinion because . . .”).
- Draw any conclusions on the facts, not the opinions (e.g., “This evidence supports the idea that . . .”).
- Provide opinions only on topics about which you have comprehensive, in-depth information or experience.
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