To be a successful communicator, it is essential to distinguish between fact and opinion and understand the dangers of mixing them.
Facts can be verified and proven. They have one set of characteristics. Facts:
- Tell what has happened
- Are objective
- Are either true or false
Opinions, on the other hand, cannot be verified or proven right or wrong. They have vastly different components. Opinions:
- Are subjective
- Consist of judgments, attitudes or personal beliefs
- Vary from person to person
- Can be argued
Suppose you state a fact blended with opinion.
"The unemployment rate under George W. Bush’s presidency was 2.13% lower than that of President Obama. While both graduated from Harvard University, President Bush’s MBA degree put him in a better position to ensure the country’s economic health than President Obama’s JD." (Coleman)
While the unemployment rate, the school each president attended and the degree each president earned are factual and can be verified, the position each president set up the economy for is an opinion and cannot be verified.
Throughout speeches and the written word, facts and opinions are often intertwined, so it is necessary to be able to discern one from the other. Being able to separate what is true from what is a held belief helps military communicators to:
- Identify bias
- Engage critical thinking abilities
- Place texts and the information within the IE into the appropriate context
- Identify false facts and misinformation
- Promote effective counsel and training to staff, peers and the commander
- Avoid being manipulated
- Navigate effectively
When It's Appropriate to Include Opinions
Communicators provide guidance and counsel about the IE to staff, peers and military leaders within their commands. As opinions are an integral part of the communication process, there are times when they are appropriate to include. However, you must be careful when sharing opinions and ensure they are always grounded in truth in order to maintain trust and credibility.
There are several benefits to including opinion within communication products. You can use opinion in military commentaries linked to relevant events, personal triumphs or challenges. It is also appropriate to use an opinion to gain support, buy-in or understanding when explaining potentially unpopular policies or command decisions. Giving opinions based on facts can provide perspective to the news or policy change.
However, when offering an opinion, make sure it aligns with the commander's policies, guidelines, directives and intent.
There are a few signal words employed that reveal the information being shared is a fact versus an opinion. (Donnchaidh)
Fact vs. Opinion Signal Words
These words all frame information as a fact:
- "according to"
- "in accordance with"
An opinion is introduced by phrases such as:
- "they claimed"
- "the commander’s view is"
- "the report argues"
- "they assume"
Because media is a powerful communication tool that can influence our behaviors, perspectives and beliefs, it’s extremely important that the facts you present are accurate and relevant. Be conscious of using terms like "I think," or "in my opinion," as they can reduce the accuracy of your statement. If you don't know the answer to a question it's okay to say so. Citing accurate, relevant facts helps promote awareness and understanding while opening a dialogue to increase civic engagement.
CMAC. (2020, July 14). What is media literacy? [Video]. YouTube.
Coleman, D. (2016). Unemployment rates by president, 1948-2016. History in Pieces.
Corvino, J. (2018, October, 8). The fact/opinion distinction. [Video]. YouTube.
Donnchaidh, S. M. (n.d.). A teacher's guide to fact and opinion. Literacy Ideas for Teachers and Students.
Google News Initiative. (2019, September 19). What's the right kind of media literacy? [Video]. YouTube.
Snap Language. (2016, April, 11). Distinguishing fact from opinion. [Video]. YouTube.