Thinking Critically: How to Form an Opinion
How to Form an Opinion
Opinions: everyone has them. They can span the most mundane, seemingly unimportant topics like what’s the best toppings for a pizza, to really significant issues concerning politics and social epidemics. Regardless of the topic, it’s important to form your opinion carefully. Look at your own experiences and consider the experiences of those around you, as well as what professionals and experts have to say. Do as much research as you can to form a thorough, well-rounded opinion and always keep an open mind, because you never know what you might learn.
Basing Opinions Off of Experience
Consider your own biases toward a topic.When considering a particular topic, if you have had any sort of experience with it—good or bad—there’s no doubt that those experiences help shape your current beliefs on the matter. However, it’s important to recognize that not all experiences accurately reflect the entire picture or the whole truth.
- Part of forming an opinion comes from separating your feelings and emotions from the facts. For instance, if you were bit by a German Shepherd as a small child, you could hold the opinion that all German Shepherds are dangerous; or your opinion may be as extreme as believing that all dogs are dangerous.
- When seeking and forming your own opinion, like whether or not German Shepherds (or dogs in general) are good animals, you need to be able to set aside your personal experiences and look at the bigger picture.
Talk with family and friends about their experiences.Having a conversation with those who are close to you may help you gain some perspective. People tend to trust those they are closest to, so you may be more likely to consider a differing perspective from your best friend rather than someone you don’t know.
- For instance, if you are trying to form an opinion on healthcare laws, ask your friends and family what their experience with the healthcare system has been. Based on their experiences, you may be able to see areas where the law works and you support it; or areas where it doesn’t work and has room for improvement.
- Often times, though, your friend’s perspectives may align with your already-established beliefs, as we tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people. So try not to rely too heavily on the opinions of your like-minded friends and family. Doing so can limit your exposure to other valuable ideas and perspectives.
- If anything, these discussions may give you another way of looking at a situation and/or more reasons to support your opinion.
Step outside of your comfort zone to experience something for yourself.This is particularly useful for topics that you have very little or no experience in. For instance, if you have a preconceived notion that people in a particular culture, or even town, behave a certain way, visit the place to experience their behavior for yourself. It’s possible you may be surprised.
- Or start small—if there is a certain type of food that “just sounds gross” to you, try it. Try to eat it in a variety of ways. Maybe the thought of eating shrimp sounds gross, or you don’t like the texture of raw shrimp, but it might actually taste good to you if it’s deep fried.
Researching Information on Topics
Read literature that pertains to the topic you are considering.This is perhaps one of the most comprehensive ways you can learn about a topic. Read articles and studies online, check out books from your local library; the more you read, the better understanding you will have about a topic.
- Read work from multiple authors. Check: is this the only author that believes this? How many other authors support this belief?
- Be sure to research both sides of a topic or an issue. Sometimes you might be surprised by elements that you overlooked or hadn’t considered. You may find that the topic isn’t necessarily black and white and perhaps there are times when you may make an exception to your belief.
- You may discover during your research, for instance, that statistically German Shepherds are actually great family dogs. But as with all dogs, there are times they may get defensive or aggressive (perhaps if they feel scared or threatened).
Consider the source when analyzing information.A good source will offer facts that span both sides of an issue. Beware of opinion pieces and articles produced by the media. They often have hidden agendas and craft their wording to capture reader’s attention and hold their interest, rather than present factual data.
- Look to what recognized experts and professionals have to say about the subject.
- If you are gathering information on healthcare, realize that partisan outlets will be heavily one-sided. It may be helpful to look at this information, as it will cover various reasons for their opinion; but take care to check outlets from the other party as well.
Analyze the writer’s motives when considering information.If the writer seems to simply be trying to convince a reader that their view is the correct (or only) view, then don’t put too much weight on what you read. Instead, look for writing that is objective and offers multiple viewpoints.
- Even if the writing is primarily one-sided, look for counterarguments to differing views. This demonstrates that the author has at least considered other viewpoints before forming their own opinion.
- Say you are still trying to figure out how you feel about German Shepherds. Reading an article written about someone else’s bad experience with the dog may not be useful in helping you form an educated opinion if their purpose for writing the article is to convince others that the breed (or dog) is bad.
Pay attention to the (right) details to keep your focus.Try not to get caught up in trivial information that doesn’t play a role in the bigger picture—you’ll end up missing the point. At the same time, some details—such as the circumstances that led up to a particular event—can be helpful in deciding your position on a topic.
- Following the German Shepherd story, details such as the month that it happened or how the weather was when the even took place really don’t matter. Details that show the circumstances leading to the behavior, like if the dog was eating dinner and you pulled the food bowl away, do.
Keeping an Open Mind
Commit to setting aside your personal biases.Acknowledging your biases is a good thing; setting them aside is even better. Do not allow your preconceived ideas to get in the way of learning something new. Approach each encounter objectively (whether it’s an article you read or a person you speak to) and as if it is your very first experience with the subject at hand.
- Visit a dog shelter or a family who owns a German Shepherd and pretend you’ve never been around a dog before. Using safe practices, interact with the dog and see how it goes.
Consider the reason why someone may have a different opinion.This can be especially helpful when dealing with touchy subjects or those considered taboo. When considering a topic, think about why someone may feel a particular way. Try to think of 2 or 3 reasons why their opinion is valid, even if you disagree.
- If you favor having no requirements for health insurance, don’t automatically discredit those who think it’s a good idea. Perhaps they have an experience where they were unable to receive proper care because they didn’t have coverage and couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket.
- Remember that often these types of opinions don’t form until someone actually experiences it for themselves—at one point they may have held the same opinion as you do.
Remain calm and respectful if someone offers a differing opinion.Don’t argue, sigh, or roll your eyes, and don’t make mean or condescending remarks. Instead, offer up positive, intelligent discourse. If it is a hot topic for you and you find it difficult to remain calm, remind yourself that it’s okay for everyone to have their own opinion and simply smile and nod.
- When someone says something you don’t agree with, try saying something like, “I see where you are coming from, but have you considered…” or “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks for that perspective.”
Change your mind if you feel compelled to.Don’t be afraid of changing your stance on a topic! It doesn’t mean that you are weak or fake, it simply means that you have gained either enough knowledge or experience to make a more informed decision.
- Changing your mind can even make you a better advocate, since you have held beliefs on both sides of an issue.
QuestionHow can I accept the Christian religion?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerOne way to start is to read The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel. He explains numerous errors in beliefs against Christianity (such as when the Bible was written) and provides several examples of where history and modern reality line up with what Scripture says. He also suggests taking the same advice he was given: examine the writings in the Bible closely, and do so critically but with an open mind. Keep in mind that Christianity is not a religion in the normal sense. C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia and well-known theologian, points out that Christianity relies on salvation through grace, not through good works, as stated by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:8-9.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I give an opinion about a company?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerState your opinion calmly and patiently to whatever audience you are speaking toward.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I form an opinion on all the protest movements on TV? I have no idea what's going on. How do I figure it out and form an opinion?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerRead some articles on different news sites (CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Economist are good places to start). Stay away from editorials and opinion pieces, just read the facts. Think about everything you've read and try writing out a few paragraphs about what you think. It's okay if you have conflicting thoughts. Continue to check the news each day and gather more facts, then adjust your opinion as needed.Thanks!
To form an opinion, start by figuring out if you have any personal biases toward the topic so you can set those aside. If you want to develop a well-informed opinion, it's best to consider information and evidence outside of your personal experience. Research the topic and try to read literature that sheds light on more than one side of the situation. Be respectful if someone has a different opinion than you, keep an open mind, and try to look at it from their perspective!
- Opinions tend to be something people feel very strongly about—especially if it is something that a lot of time and energy was put into researching. Always stay calm and respectful when sharing your opinion with others or listening to a differing opinion. This can help you avoid conflict.
Video: How to Have an Opinion | Comic Relief Originals
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