Ever notice how some people start a sentence with “The fact is … ” or “I know for a fact … ” but it quickly becomes evident that they are merely offering their opinion? They may speak with passion and conviction, but it’s obvious that the statement is not based on reality. It’s just harmless conversation.
In contrast, presenting biased opinions as facts in the business world is anything but harmless. It can have serious repercussions. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand why you should stick to the facts vs. opinions in business writing. Here’s why it matters so much.
Facts vs. Opinions—Why It Matters
When you state something and present it as a fact, your business associates trust you. They expect you have thoroughly researched the subject, found the data, studies, or evidence that will prove your stated points. They trust it to be free of partial opinions. The information you share will have an impact on your audience. They may be swayed toward allocating more funds for a project or increasing staff based on the numbers you present as factual. Important decisions will be made based on their level of trust in you and your “facts.”
If the same people later learned that you had presented as fact your personal opinions, you might be looking at a loss of employment, losing clients or customers, or being accused of fraud.
Clearly, it matters immensely that you use facts instead of opinions in your presentation.
Facts vs. Opinions—The Differences
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, “fact” can be defined as
- something that has actual existence (e.g., surgeons can now successfully separate conjoined twins)
- an actual occurrence (e.g., Maine became a state in 1820)
- information presented as having objective reality (e.g., the facts of the case were presented by the lawyers in court)
In contrast, “opinion” can be defined as
- A view or appraisal about a particular matter formed in the mind of an individual (e.g., she offered her opinion based on her experience)
- A generally held view (e.g., public opinion)
- A belief stronger than impression but not as strong as a positive knowledge of something (e.g., the company held the opinion that no wrong was committed)
The Benefits of Communicating the Facts
The art of communication is significantly enhanced when you stick to the facts. Facts allow you to share, inform, and present arguments in a logical, objective way. Facts bring meaning and context to your writing. They offer guidance and confidence in making decisions. And when you demonstrate your willingness to provide your source material, you add to your credibility.
The Pitfalls of Relying on Opinion
Opinions are often used in persuasive arguments. They might be loud and emphatic or sincerely-held beliefs that seem so real to the person that you think: It must be true!
However, a careful and educated reader or audience will pick up on opinions masked as factual statements. They will demand you present evidence to prove your point. The problem with opinions is that they are subjective—a person or group’s perspective or interpretation.
Opinions are like quicksand … before you know it, you’re sinking and can’t dig yourself out.
How to Present the Facts
Here’s how to present the facts in your business writing. The following example demonstrates three steps to follow: (1) Make a statement; (2) ask yourself questions; and (3) present the evidence and rewrite the original statement.
Statement: “Our latest sales drive was the most successful of the fiscal year.”
Questions to ask: Where’s my proof? Can I show the actual numbers that will back up my statement? Am I prepared to do so?
Revised Statement: “Our latest sales drive was the most successful of the fiscal year. When comparing each fiscal quarter and sales campaign, the numbers were astounding. The 4th quarter demonstrated a 20% increase over all previous quarters. I’ve attached a comparison chart for reference.”
What to Avoid
There are words you should avoid using in business writing if your goal is to keep it opinion-free. These include:
While not wrong in themselves, these words may indicate to a reader that a statement of opinion is to follow. Of course, starting any sentence with “I feel” or “I believe” is a clear indicator that you are about to express an opinion versus a fact.
When Your Opinion Is Requested
If you are asked to offer your opinion in a conclusion or assessment, state it honestly. Try this:
“The following is my personal recommendation based upon the evidence and documentation presented.”
“I firmly believe this is the right decision based on the research our team has completed. I stand behind all of our calculations and would be happy to provide you with those numbers.”
The key is to state that you are offering an opinion. However, that opinion is firmly rooted in factual evidence that you can readily present upon request.
Business writing demands careful consideration when it comes to presenting information. Always strive to be honest and factual in your presentation and save the opinions for your book club. In doing so, you will safeguard your integrity and reputation.