Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Fact or Fiction?

Reading with a critical eye is imperative in our world. Everywhere you turn there are websites, emails, magazine articles and much more, all striving for your attention and your support. Reading with a critical eye means that you can consistently evaluate the worth or reliability of what you are reading, or that you challenge the claims of the author.

A part of having that critical eye is challenging the statements and opinions of the author. To be able to challenge effectively, you must first be able to differentiate between fact and fiction. You need to be able to recognize which is which in any reading selection. Not every writer will make his opinion clear; in fact, some may try to pass off an opinion as fact. You, as the reader, need to be able to realize when this is occurring. Once you can identify opinions, then you can evaluate the author’s assertions, and in doing so, challenge what the writer claims to be true or right.


Let’s first look at facts, which in the end, will help you to better identify opinions. A fact is defined as any statement that can be proven to be true. Here are some simple examples of facts:

  • Cleveland is a city in Ohio.
  • Alaska is the largest state in the U.S.A.

Can each of these examples be proven true? Yes, each one can. You can check to see where Cleveland is geographically located, or compare the area of Alaska to other states.

When considering challenging what a writer is claiming, true facts are usually not challengeable. Alaska is either the largest state or it’s not; there is no gray area or wiggle room. This stays true for more complicated statements or facts, as well. For instance, imagine an author is writing on the topic of deforestation and uses a specific statistic on how many trees in the rainforest are cut down every day. The most you can do to challenge that statistic is to check that the source is reliable and trustworthy. If the writer cites his source, and it is a reliable one, then you can’t do much more to challenge that statement. The statistic is a proven fact.


Now let’s look at opinions, which will be the majority of what you will be able to challenge in a piece of writing. An opinion is a judgment statement, or one that cannot be proven to be true. Look at how the facts from earlier have been changed to opinions:

  • Cleveland is the best city in Ohio.
  • Alaska has the worst weather when compared to all other states.

Calling Cleveland the best city is a judgment call. There are many people out there, both in and outside of Cleveland, who will disagree with that statement. It cannot be proven true. What makes a city the best of all the cities is entirely subjective. The same goes for the second example. The best and worst type of weather is entirely subjective. It varies from person to person.

Challenging Opinions

Now that you know the difference between basic facts and opinions, let’s look at how to challenge opinions in a reading selection. The trickiest part is recognizing the opinions when they are dressed up as facts. Many writers mask their opinion in a statement that sounds like a fact. For instance, what if the author used a statistic on how many trees are being cut down per day in the rainforest in this way:

  • Due to the high number of trees cut down in the rainforest on a daily basis, humans are one of the most destructive species on our planet.

There is some fact in this assertion, but it comes down to a complete judgment call. This is an opinion that can be challenged. Think about issues that might question the truth of that opinion. For instance, does cutting down trees necessarily mean humans are a destructive species? And, what if the people plant just as many trees as those that are cut down? Posing those kinds of questions is how you can challenge the author’s statement.

Here is another sample statement that could be a thesis for an essay:

  • Our government needs to focus more on protecting our environment than protecting other foreign interests.

In this case, you can tell this is a persuasive piece, since the writer is trying to get you to agree with his opinion. However, the idea that protecting the environment is more of a priority than foreign interests is a subjective concept. What our government should prioritize is a judgment call. We all have different opinions of what is the most important thing in our lives.

When you read a strong opinion like this one, you have to challenge the author in his assertion. If you are responding to this type of essay in writing, some challenging concepts could be the importance of different foreign policies in our society, the importance of the United States’ interest and relationship to other countries and the negative consequences of ignoring foreign policy and friendly countries. You can even challenge the idea that environmental protection is not being prioritized in our country by bringing up the increase in recycling and pollution prohibitions. Thinking about the other issues that factor into the opinion is central to challenging statements in a reading selection.

Lesson Summary

To review, before you can begin to challenge statements in a selection, you must first be able to differentiate between fact and fiction. A fact is a statement that can be proven to be true. On the other hand, fiction, or an opinion, is a statement that is a judgment – it cannot be proven to be true. For the most part, facts, since they can be proven true, are not the statements that you can challenge. Instead, you must be on the lookout for opinions, which are subjective to the writer.

When you find a statement that is the writer’s judgment or opinion, think about the other factors that affect that issue. For instance, if the writer claims that humans are a destructive force since we cause the deforestation of acres upon acres of rainforest, challenge this opinion with other factors in this issue. What about the trees humans plant? What about other ways humans save living things in our natural world? What about other factors that cause destruction in the world?

All these questions show you are challenging the author’s opinion. The most important aspect of responding to writing is challenging the author’s opinions. If you can accurately identify opinions, even when dressed up as facts, then you can form challenging questions to effectively analyze what you read.

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