When writing press releases or human services reports, it is important to “stick to the facts,” as they say in the movies. Although these are two totally different documents, they do share this aspect in mind, so I would like everyone to take some time to recognize the differences between facts, inferences and judgments.
Facts are observable, verifiable information. Facts are what you see, no opinions or values added. They are learned through our senses: sight, smell, hearing, etc. They exist outside the observer, meaning they are reality, not the observer’s impression of that reality. Notice how these following statements describe reality without any added thoughts about the images:
- There is a ditch on both sides of Route 22 South.
- I planted a Norway maple last fall.
- Ames sells notebook paper at 89 cents for 100 sheets.
Notice it doesn’t say the ditch will help alleviate flooding along the roads, or the maple will make good shade trees, or the sale is excellent. Those are opinions that have to be proven before they become facts: what if the ditch doesn’t work, or what it if was built for aesthetics or traffic safety and not for water control. The fact is that it is there.
Inferences are based on analysis. They are statements of the unknown based on the known. They are derived from reason, in other words figured out based on our past experience. They exist within the observer and therefore can be different based on the observer’s experience. Here are some examples of inferences based on facts:
- Ann swore, pounded on the table and threw the phone book across the room. INF: Ann is angry.
- Tom kept to himself at the party, danced only when a girl asked him. INF: Tom is scared of girls.
Maybe Ann just won the lottery and cannot control her emotions. Perhaps Tom doesn’t fee comfortable about his dancing ability, or he is shy. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t like girls. Inferences need to be corroborated. In other words, if we asked Tom if he didn’t like girls and he said yes, that would become a fact. Or if we knew more facts about why Ann was acting this way, we could prove the inference to be a fact.
Judgments are subjective observations. I don’t like to use the word opinion when describing judgments because inferences are often opinions as well. But judgments are statements showing approval or disapproval. They are derived from our values and reveal our feelings and attitudes toward something. Here are some examples of judgments made from facts:
- The car went 60,000 miles with only oil changes. JUDGMENT: It was a wonderful car.
- Senator Brown was the only one who voted against the Railroad Bill. JUDGMENT: The senator was courageous/stubborn.
- Jerry was convicted of theft: JUDGMENT: Jerry is a thief.
Most cars these days should be able to go that far without extensive repairs. It’s only an average car, many would say. And you can see how judgments are based on the observers feelings: it creates debate in Senator Brown’s world. Jerry is the most controversial statement here, however. Some people might say that if he is convicted, it becomes a fact, but what if he stole something out of what he deemed necessity and was caught as a first-time offender. The word “thief” connotes a long-time experience with stealing property.
In our discussion section in the module, I will give you several statements that I would like you to discuss: are they facts, inferences or judgments? But for now, I would like to split the class in two directions. Those of you in Human Services should go to the “Human Services Report document; those of you not in Human Services can go to the “Press Release” document. I am not requiring Human Services students to read the information on press releases, but I am suggesting you take the time to look at it; people in Human Services often have to deal with the media regularly.