What is Opinion?

Opinion is

  • a type of evidence
  • an interpretive lens
    • a subjective, potentially subconscious process that is a way of seeing and not seeing, a prejudice that impinges on interpretation and reasoning.

Key Concepts: Authority is Constructed & ContextualEvidenceInformation Literacy; Reasoning with Evidence; News or Opinion; What is RAD? – Replicable, Aggregable, Data-Supported Scholarship?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once quipped, rephrasing an early quote from James R. Schlesinger, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

In everyday speech, speakers may share their opinions and even debate the veracity of one another’s opinions. As social beings, we learn from one another. Inevitably, as we are enculturated into our families and communities, we adopt the catechisms, the articles of faith, that define those communities.

Yet in written discourse, when the stakes are often higher or the context is less clear, writers, speakers, knowledge workers . . . are expected to substantiate their claims by citing textual and empirical evidence.

Why is it important to avoid the use of unsupported opinions as evidence?

Writer’s, speaker’s, knowledge worker’s . . . intuition, anecdotal experiences, felt sense, and prejudices may lead them to certain ideas, conclusions, and patterns of thought that seem so natural, so inevitable, that they may seem to be factual when in actuality they are outliers.

  • Unsupported opinions can weaken the credibility of the writer (the writer’s ethos) because the reader may lose their trust in the writer.
  • Strong opinions may offend the reader, who may feel differently about the issue or have a personal connection to the opposing view.
  • Opinions without supporting evidence can compromise the strength and perceived validity of the paper’s argument because such opinions may overshadow other trustworthy evidence.

When should an opinion be left out?

An opinion should be left out of a text when it:

  • cannot be supported by credible sources or reliable research.
  • is informed only by personal experiences, religious beliefs, or strong emotions and not by relevant data.
  • can be replaced with a more compelling point.

How can an opinion be properly stated and supported?

  • Identify the root of your opinion: What is your opinion based on? If the answer is related only to personal experiences, religious beliefs, or strong emotions, you will need to do some research to ensure that credible sources are available to back your opinion.
  • Locate credible evidence that supports your opinion: Look for specific evidence in your research that supports your opinion. Citing an authority in conjunction with communicating your opinion will help strengthen the credibility of your claim.
  • Establish a connection between your opinion and reliable evidence: Demonstrate to your reader that an opinion used to support a point has been informed by research and credible sources. Connect relevant research to the opinion as clearly as possible.

Let’s look at an example:

Unsupported opinion: I believe that the current ‘anti-bullying’ campaigns aimed at today’s adolescents are useless and will only create a future society that is full of wimps.

Supported opinion: ‘Anti-bullying’ campaigns targeting today’s adolescents may create a future society that is unprepared to cope with conflict. In support of this idea, noted psychologist Peter Smith explains that while reports of bullying decrease with age, the frequency of bullying remains the same across different age groups. He attributes this decline in reported bullying incidents to the fact that older victims have developed valuable coping mechanisms to help deal with bullying (Smith 336). Smith’s idea suggests that bullying may not always be detrimental to the victim, since building coping skills during adolescence may contribute to greater resiliency in adulthood. [1]

[1] Smith, Peter, Shu Shu, and Kirsten Madsen. “Characteristics of Victims of School Bullying: Developmental Changes in Coping Strategies and Skills.”

Peer Harassment in School: The Plight of the Vulnerable and Victimized. Ed. Jaana Juvonen, Sandra Graham. New York: Guilford Press, 2001. 332-351. Print.

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