Why Isn’t My Personal Opinion Good Enough? How to Establish an Educated Opinion in Academic Writing
Kaplan University Faculty, Department of Educational Studies
I’ve served as a professor in the online college environment, teacher in the high school English and literature classroom, and student through various degree programs. In most academic arenas, what you “feel” might be limited to personal narratives, essays, or discussions within the physical classroom, depending on the course content and the individual professor. But, one thing I’ve learned in all my time in the classroom is that professors do, indeed, want to know what you think. They just want your thoughts to become more focused on what you’ve learned – your education – rather than on your own personal feelings or beliefs.
According to Dictionary.com, a personal opinion is: “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty” (Dictionary.com, 2014). The key words in this definition are insufficient grounds. One of the goals of higher education is that you begin to establish your understanding of the world (or at least the concepts within each course) based on information that has been researched by experts in the field – information that will support your newly formed and developing opinions on the subject under discussion. An educated opinion, then, might be described as “a belief or judgment that rests on grounds sufficient enough to produce some degree of certainty” on a particular topic. These “sufficient grounds” would be the research you’ve conducted or the learning you’ve experienced during your studies.
Within each course of study at the college level, you’ll be required to do some sort of research of your own – reading the course textbook or other required materials, doing research in the library or online, or even conducting experiments or doing activities that conclude with some sort of measurable results. Whatever the process may be, the product is that you become more familiar with the topics and concepts that you study and research – that you develop a more educated opinion that either expands, supports, or even changes your own personal opinion on those concepts.
So how do you establish your personal opinion versus an educated opinion in an academic paper written to meet course or school requirements? The most straightforward way of doing so is to simply cite the research that exists to support your statements.
As you do your readings, research, or experiments, keep notes of specific statements or results that stick out to you, those that challenge your thinking or make you say, “Hmmm.” Whenever you have one of these “a-ha” moments, make note of what ignited the spark inside your mind.
Then, when you write your paper(s), go back to those notes and remind yourself what triggered such a personal reaction – simply cite the source of that spark within the text of your paper. Whenever possible, include a summary of the information in your own words or, if necessary, quote the information directly from the author of the source of your inspiration. And always remember – whether you paraphrase using your own words or quote the words of another – cite your sources.
In just a few short steps, you’ve gone from relating your personal opinion to establishing and reporting an educated opinion “that rests on grounds sufficient enough to produce some degree of certainty,” a skill that will serve you well in all your academic pursuits.
For more information on personal writing in the online classroom and writing at the college level, check out these other KUWC Blog posts:
Dictionary.com. (2014). Define Opinion. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/opinion