A fact is a statement that is true by definition (for example, “1 + 1 — 2” or “Alma means ‘soul’ in Spanish”) or that can be, at least theoretically, proved by observation (for example, “Pluto is very cold.”)
An opinion is a statement that is meaningful but that is not
true by definition or absolutely provable by observation.
~ Types of opinions include
judgments, predictions, and
statements of policy, belief, or obligation.
An opinion is reasonable if it is supported by the available facts.
128 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment
A Tell whether each of the following expressions is a statement of fact or a statement of opinion.
1 The world’s largest zoo is the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
2 The most fascinating animals in the San Diego Wild Animal Park are the Siberian tigers.
3 Julius C~sar conquered Gaul, the area that is now France and
4 Julius C~sar was a great military leader.
5 The tallest animal in the North American wilds is the moose.
6 Moose are really goofy looking.
7 Great Britain should return the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
8 The Elgin Marbles are beautiful sculptures that were taken from Greece by Lord Elgin.
9 The scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are building a robot named Cog.
10 By the year 2020, Cog should be able to hold a reasonable conversation in English, Spanish, German, or Japanese.
B Explain how you might prove or disprove each of the following statements of fact.
1 The average student in my school is five feet, seven inches tall.
2 The Metropolitan Museum houses several bronzes from Benin, Africa.
3 A quatrain is a verse form with four-line stanzas.
4 Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, is covered with ice.
5 The Korean War ended in 1953. C On your paper, write five opinions:
a judgment, a statement of belief, a
statement of policy, a statement of
obligation, and a prediction.
D The following is a pie chart from a newspaper article about the 1998 United States Federal Budget. Based on the information provided in the chart, write five statements of fact. Then write two statements of opinion related to this information. For each statement of opinion, give at least one fact from the chart that supports the opinion.
Is this a valid logical argument? You know from your own observation that it is not. The argument contains a logical fallacy. A logical fallacy is a failure in reasoning. A writer makes a fallacious argument when the conclusion is not warranted, or supported, by the facts. One example of a logical fallacy is the false analogy. An argument by analogy compares two things that are similar in a certain way and concludes that therefore they are also alike in other ways.
EXAMPLE: A surgeon who works at
County Hospital wears a white uniform and is professionally trained to work
with sharp knives. The surgeon can save your life by operating on you. A chef
who works at County Hospital wears a white uniform and is professionally
trained to work with sharp knives.
Therefore, the chef can save your life by operating on you.
EXPLANATION:The similarity between the two workers does not necessarily
equal similarity in capability.
Post hoc ergo pro pter hoc. This Latin phrase means “Following this, therefore because of this.” It is a false argument that assumes that any event that follows another
EXAMPLE: After the Floyd family installed a larger mailbox, they started to receive more junk mail. The Floyds should go back to their old mailbox and stop the flood of junk mail coming into their house.
EXPLANATION: The Floyds’ advisor is mixing up concurrence with causation. There is no evidence given to support the notion that the increase in junk mail is related to the size of the mailbox.
Affirming the antecedent and denying the consequent. An “if. . . then. . .“ statement is made up of two parts—the antecedent, or “if” part, and the consequent, or “then” part. The statement holds that if the antecedent is true, then the consequent must be true. However, if the consequent is true, you can’t conclude anything about the antecedent.
EXAMPLE: If you are on the Earth, then a rock thrown into the air must fall back
down. Thus, if a rock thrown into the
air falls back down, then you must be on the Earth.
EXPLANATION: The antecedent in the
first statement is true, thus the
130 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment
consequent is true. However, the truth of the consequent (a rock thrown into the air falls back down) does not necessarily imply the truth of the antecedent (you must be on Earth). You might be on Earth, but you could also be on the moon or on any other body that has enough mass to produce the gravitational force required to overcome the upward acceleration of the rock.
Fallacy of Composition. If the individual members of a group possess a certain quality, it does not necessarily follow that the group as a whole shares that quality.
EXAMPLE: Every player on the soccer team is very talented. Therefore, the team is great!
EXPLANATION: A team’s quality is made up of more than just the talent of its players. The members of the team might be fast, smart, and accurate, but they might not practice often or work together well. Therefore, they might lose to teams who practice more frequently or who are adept at working together as a team.
Fallacy of Decomposition. It is not necessarily true that every member of a group possesses the qualities or characteristics of the group.
EXAMPLE: This is the worst soup I ever tasted. There are carrots in this soup. Therefore, carrots are the worst vegetable I ever tasted.
EXPLANATION: The problem might be the carrots, but delicious carrots could be part of soup that is bad because of other ingredients or improper preparation.
Non sequitur. This is a Latin phrase meaning “it does not follow.” A non sequitur is a conclusion that simply does not follow from the facts presented.
EXAMPLE: Dawson’s Creek is the best
television show because all my friends like it.
EXPLANATION: The word best means “of higher quality than any other.” The
opinion of the writer’s friends does not address the quality of other television shows and is not a complete survey of the opinions of all viewers. Therefore, the conclusion does not follow from
Ad hominem. This Latin phrase means “to the person.” Someone making an ad hominem argument attempts to cast doubt on an opinion by attacking the person holding the opinion rather than the opinion itself. This kind of statement is a common characteristic of misleading propaganda. Propaganda is the process of spreading ideas that help one’s own cause or discredit an opponent’s cause.
EXAMPLE: My little brother is a dork. Don’t pay any attention to what he
thinks of our band.
EXPLANATION: The writer’s evaluation of her brother’s personality provides no objective evidence about the quality of the band. It is simply a personal attack, probably motivated by an emotional
reaction to a comment that the brother has made.
False dichotomy. A false dichotomy, or either. . . or argument, falsely assumes that only two alternatives are possible.
EXAMPLE: You are either for our party, or you are against us.
Lesson 5.2—Understanding Persuasive Texts 13 I
EXPLANATION: This statement does not allow for any degrees in the other person’s opinion. The other person could support some of the party’s platform and not other parts or could be completely neutral. This kind of all-or-nothing statement is a common characteristic of misleading propaganda.
The Fallacy of Omission. This fallacy occurs when important facts bearing on a particular issue are ignored. The worst instances of this fallacy occur when known but contradictory facts are purposefully withheld.
EXAMPLE: It’s not my fault that I got a D in geometry. After all, I got a B on the midterm test, didn’t I?
EXPLANATION: If the person speaking received a D, then there are facts that he or she left out, like his or her grades on the other work done for the class.
Note: A particularly dangerous version of this fallacy occurs when people refer to abstract principles to support an action but ignore the consequences of the application of those principles—the facts about what will or will not happen. To whip up support for his aggressive military campaigns against his neighbors, Hitler made speeches promoting dubious abstract principles related to Aryan supremacy and the destiny of the German people. What he omitted was any description of the concrete consequences—the carnage, for example— that would result from making war on his neighbors and turning group against group within his own country.
Overgeneralization. Inductive reasoning from particular facts to general conclusions is the primary means by which people
gain knowledge of the world. However, induction based on too little evidence leads to the fallacy of overgeneralization.
EXAMPLE: Every bear I have seen has been brown; therefore, all bears are brown.
statement has based a conclusion on insufficient personal observation and
could have ascertained the existence of
bears of other colors by consulting an
Indulgence in logical fallacies often leads to negative consequences. Logical fallacies are the stock-in-trade of those who spread racial and ethnic stereotypes, perpetrate consumer frauds, and stir up fanaticism. By developing an awareness of logical fallacies—by keeping a keen eye out for them in your daily life—you can keep from being duped and can become a force among your friends and acquaintances for reason and understanding.
According to one common definition, rhetoric is the art of persuasion, but a good argument can be made that almost all speech and writing, even when it is strictly informative, has persuasive elements. After all, the style, form, and tone of an informative scientific paper or encyclopedia article are adopted by the writer to persuade his or her readers that the information being presented can be trusted. So, in one sense, all writing and speech is rhetorical. This is one reason why the study of speech and composition, generally, is often referred to as rhetoric.
132 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment
Rhetorical devices are special ways of using words to achieve an effect on an audience. Such manipulation of the audience is a type of persuasion. As opposed to figurative language, like metaphor or personification, rhetorical devices do not create their effect by making a novel comparison between a person or object and some other person or object (“She walks in beauty like the night”; “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands”). Instead rhetorical devices make use of other aspects of language, such as grammar or sound, to create an effect on the reader or listener. Because an effective use of rhetoric can arouse powerful emotions in its audience, its use has come to be regarded with suspicion. Just as propaganda, which has also acquired a negative association, may be used legitimately to move people, so may rhetorical devices. It is when rhetorical techniques are used to mislead or falsify that they should be looked at askance. The chart to the right describes some common rhetorical devices used in persuasive speech and writing.
The Importance of Opinions
When students first learn that facts are statements that can be proved and that opinions are statements that cannot be proved absolutely, they often jump to the conclusion that facts are good and opinions are bad. In the opinion of the authors of this text, such a hasty conclusion is a mistake. Opinions, such as belief in the loyalty and value of a friend or pride in a job well done, are the essence of a healthy, happy, productive life. All the really important human activities—ethics, aesthetics, love, and politics, to name but a few—are
Antithesis. An antithesis is a strong contrast between two ideas. Examples: a. “I expected joy. I found despair.” b. “cold hands, warm heart”
Loaded Words. Loaded words are
ones with strong emotional content. Examples include epithets of all
kinds and words that imply
judgments, such as stupid or wrong.
Parallelism. Parallelism is the use of similar grammatical forms to give
items equal weight, as in Lincoln’s line “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Repetition. Repetition is the use, again, of any element, such as a sound, word, phrase, clause, or sentence. Example: “Rows of men marched away. Rows of men raised their rifles. Rows of men were mown down like winter wheat.”
Rhetorical Question. A rhetorical question is one asked for effect but not meant to be answered because the answer is presumed to be clear. Example: “Are we not Americans?
V Will we not stand up against the enemies of freedom?”
matters of opinion. The point of this chapter is not that opinions, or the rhetorical devices used to support them, are bad but that they are more reasonable if the facts support them. In fact, that is what persuasion, as opposed to propaganda, is all about: providing good reasons—solid, incontestable facts—to support opinions.
Lesson 5.2—Understanding Persuasive Texts 133
Y~r Turn 6
A Review the article on the Etruscans on pages 18—20. Identify two facts and two opinions presented in the article. Is the article primarily informative or persuasive? Does it contain persuasive elements? Explain.
B Identify, by name, the logical fallacy or fallacies in each of the following statements. (Some statements contain examples of more than one of the fallacies presented in the lesson.) Discuss with your classmates, in a small group, what is wrong with each argument.
1 Rock guitarists know all about amplifiers. Rick knows a lot about amplifiers. Therefore, he must be a rock guitarist.
2 In the decade after President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, crime rates rose in every large city in America. Therefore, the Civil Rights Act must have caused an increase in the amount of crime.
3 The test scores at Woodlawn High School are the highest in the state. Marc goes to Woodlawn, so he must be really smart.
4 There’s no game after school today, so we should watch television.
5 We should buy that house. After all, wasn’t that the most beautiful living room you ever saw?
Your friend said that alligators don’t age, but I don’t believe her because, in my opinion, she’s an idiot, and have you seen the clothes that she wears? I bet she couldn’t even spell the word cool.
7 You don’t want Erica in your study group because she’s not a “brain”;
she’s a “jock.” I mean, she plays field hockey, doesn’t she?
8 Ok, the way I see it, there are two choices for the prom theme:
“Famous Couples” or “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
9 Don’t believe what you hear about spotted owls being endangered. My
brother went hiking in Washington
State, and he saw not one but two of them. How likely is that, huh?
10 Freud explained that the human brain was like a steam engine, and
people’s wishes or desires were like the steam inside the engine. Both
build up over time. If the steam isn’t released in some way, the engine
breakdown or becomes neurotic.
C Work with a group of students to find examples in print advertisements and television commercials of the logical fallacies and rhetorical devices described in this lesson. Create a group report or a bulletin board display of the examples that you find, with labels and explanations.
134 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment
L~SS~N Understanding Informative
ick up a newspaper and scan its pages. Most of the writing that you will find there will be informative. Go to a magazine rack in a shop and flip through some of the popular offerings there. Again, informative writing will be the bulk of what you find. Informative writing is everywhere, in popular culture; in textbooks in school; in reports and memoranda in business and the professions. You will also encounter informative writing on standardized tests.
You can identify informative writing by one characteristic: Its primary purpose is to provide facts about some subject. A news story about a fire, a magazine article about what to look for when purchasing a new computer, a textbook chapter about the Civil War or astronomy—all exist to
provide information. Libraries and bookstores have many sections devoted entirely to informative titles on business, computers and computer programs, health and medicine, reference, science, nature, philosophy, art, music, self-help, gardening, cooking, and many other subjects. In addition, literally millions of pieces of informative writing, from news reports to scientific articles, are posted on the Internet each day. Often, people read informative works in order to teach themselves something essential, but equally often, people read such works simply because they are interested in the subject matter. The twentieth century has been called the information age because of the tremendous need and appetite for information of contemporary people. Obviously, knowing how to read informative writing with understanding and discernment is an essential skill.
all informative writing is beyond the scope of this book, but a lot can be learned about informative writing in general by focusing on the narrower topic of the informative essay. An essay is a short, nonexhaustive treatment of a single subject. Book-length informative works are often simply collections of such essays or, indeed, longer, more complete versions of their shorter counterparts. The following are some of the major kinds of informative essays:
Lesson 5.3—Understanding Informative Texts 135
A narrative essay is one that tells a story about real events and people. Usually, a narrative essay focuses on one major event or series of events and is organized in chronological order, that is, in the order of the occurrence of the events. An essay about the Montgomery bus boycott, the event that really set the American Civil Rights Movement in motion, would be an example. When reading a narrative essay, ask yourself the following questions:
Questions to Ask About
1. Who are the maj or characters involved?
2. What is the setting, or time and place, of the story?
3. What is the sequence, or order, of events in the story?
4. What issues or struggles, (conflicts) are involved? Are
these resolved, and if so, how?
5. What is the significance, or importance, of the events being related?
A process essay describes the steps or stages in some activity. An essay that describes how a bill makes its way through Congress or what causes a volcano to erupt is an example of a process essay. One popular kind of process essay is the how-to essay, which describes how to do something, such as how to train a dog, how to do routine maintenance on a mountain bike,
how to write a press release in proper form, or how to choose an outfit for the prom. When reading a process or how-to essay, ask yourself these questions:
Questions to Ask About Process Writing
1. What process is the writer describing?
2. What are the steps, or stages, in the process?
3. In what sequence, or order, do the steps occur?
4. Has the writer left out any important steps?
A classification essay is one in which a writer presents a scheme for organizing a number of elements into classes, or groups. An essay in a field guide to a national park, for example, might break down the animals within the park into groups such as invertebrates, mammals, reptiles, birds, and fish, discussing each in turn. The section on the park’s mammals might divide them into
major predators and their prey. An article J in a computer magazine about graphics
— software might divide the available programs into groups such as drawing
programs, painting programs, photo-editing programs, graphics cataloging and storage programs, programs for producing Web graphics, and so on. Classification is extremely useful because it helps to organize information, and organized information is easier to remember. When reading a classification essay, ask yourself these questions:
136 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment
A comparison-and-contrast essay describes the similarities and differences between two or more subjects. For example, an article in the travel section of a newspaper might compare and contrast vacationing on two different islands in the Caribbean, or an article in a computer magazine might explain how the Internet works by comparing data moving on the Net to traffic moving on a highway. (One difference is that, on the Net, there is no penalty for going really fast!) When reading a comparison-and-contrast essay, ask yourself these questions:
Questions to Ask About Writing That Compares and Contrasts
1. What subjects are being
compared and/or contrasted?
2. ‘~(/hat are their similarities?
3. What are their differences?
A cause-and-effect essay explains how one event or series of events (the cause or causes) brings about another event or series of events (the effects). An article in a
magazine explaining the increase in the crow population nationwide as the result of an increase in the amount of garbage and roadkill available for these scavengers to eat would be an example of a cause-and-effect essay, as would a section in a textbook explaining how the Civil War resulted from tensions between the North and the South over such issues as slavery, export duties on cotton, import duties on manufactured goods, and so on. When discussing cause and effect, people often distinguish between necessary and sufficient causes. A necessary cause is one that has to exist for a particular effect to take place. A sufficient cause is even stronger. It is one that, by itself, is enough to bring about an effect. When reading a cause-and-effect essay, ask yourself these questions: