Writing objectively attracts better grades than otherwise for most university assignments. In this post, I will touch on objective versus subjective writing. Also, I will give you a five-point checklist for writing objectively.
Most academic assignments at university level require you to write objectively. Objectivity can be verified independently because it is supported by independent evidence, logical reasoning, facts, research, data and statistics.
By contrast, writing subjectively (the opposite of writing objectively) is supported by your personal feelings, opinions or judgments on a topic. Since your views cannot be verified independently and possibly change as you learn more, subjective writing weakens the credibility of your work. That is, we all have personal opinions so why should we regard your opinion at a particular time any higher than ours? As a result, in most instances, subjective writing is less convincing.
Tip: Check with Your University First
There are, however, specific disciplines or unique circumstances where subjective writing is rightfully expected. For example:
- An assignment may require you to present researched evidence objectively but then conclude with your personal opinion.
- Critiques and reviews you write for the creative arts typically require your personal opinion.
- In the science disciplines, you may be asked for your hypothesis, how and why you performed an experiment in a particular way, and what your conclusions are based on the findings of your analysis.
These are just a few of the many possible examples of when subjective writing may be sought. When determining whether a writing task requires a degree of subjective writing, consider the expectation attached to the task’s instruction words (see 50 Instruction Words and Their Meanings).
Therefore, while objectivity is required for most academic writing, do not assume that you will never be required to convey your personal opinions or judgements on a topic. So, please, always check with your university whether you should be writing objectively or subjectively for your assignments.
5-point Checklist for Writing Objectively
1. Use Facts, Credible Evidence and Resulting Logic
When you refer to facts and reliable evidence, you are strengthening the credibility of your work by leveraging off the research of others (assuming you’ve chosen research from credible sources; see Credible Sources: Your 6-point Checklist). Logical arguments which are grounded on these researched statements are more stable than those which are based merely on your personal opinion.
Compare the following statements:
1. Tanawattanacharoen (2018) offers three leading causes for the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
2. Everyone agrees there were three leading causes for the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.
The first sentence demonstrates that you have conducted research in this area and that this statement is supported by the evidence Tanawattanacharoen has researched previously. The second sentence, on the other hand, sounds weak because it is not supported by any research, it merely conveys your personal opinion.
2. Omit Emotive Language, Intensifiers and Judgmental Language
Try to keep your writing evidential and factual, leaving your emotions out. Emotional writing appeals to the feelings of the reader, rather than just giving the facts or evidence. Emotive language often uses superlatives or an exaggeration in an attempt to elicit an emotional reaction.
Similarly, intensifiers are adjectives or adverbs that subjectively strengthen or weaken a researched statement to add a personal opinion to that statement. Examples of intensifiers include ‘really’, ‘very’ and ‘awfully’, among others. By leaving out intensifying adjectives to strengthen or weaken a researched statement, the statement remains objective.
Similarly, when you use language which conveys a sense of judging something or someone, you are expressing your personal opinion and eliciting an emotive response from the reader. Academic style, however, should remain impartial and objective. Examples of words which convey a sense of judging include ‘shocking’, ‘wonderful’, ‘awful’, ‘glorious’, ‘terrible’, ‘amazing’ and ‘outrageous’.
Compare the following statements:
1. Martinez (2017) presents three credible studies to support her claims.
2. Martinez (2017) presents three really credible studies to support her claims.
The first sentence objectively introduces the topic of three credible studies being used to support another writer’s claims. The second sentence, however, inserts the student’s personal opinion about those three credible studies by using ‘really’, which actually weakens the sentence by weakening its objectivity.
3. Be Tentative and Hedge Your Statements
This point is tied to bullet point two above in which I discussed avoiding the use of intensifiers. Tentative modifiers are the opposite of intensifiers, they cautiously or modestly reduce the persuasiveness of a statement.
Bias statements decrease the credibility of your paper. By contrast, your writing is more balanced and believable when you use cautious or tentative language to hedge your statements. Imagine a garden hedge; it looks more attractive when it’s just been trimmed, and there aren’t any branches sticking out randomly. Similarly, I recommend you hedge your statements by:
- Using the adverbs ‘possibly’ and ‘probably’ to replace ‘definitely’ and ‘clearly’. For example, ‘this is possibly caused by…’ or ‘this is probably the most important factor.’
- Using the modal verbs ‘may’, ‘might’ or ‘could’. For instance, ‘this may be the most important factor.’
- Using ‘appears to + V1/appears that + N’, ‘seems to + V1/seems that + N’, ‘tends to + V1’. For example, ‘this appears to be the most important factor.’
- Being cautious with adverbs of frequency. That is, replacing ‘always’ with ‘often’, ‘sometimes’ and ‘usually’. For instance, ‘these are often caused by…’
- Using the verbs ‘indicates’, ‘assumes’, ‘suggests’ and ‘believes’. For example, ‘Chow’s (2018) research indicates…’
Compare the following statements:
1. The decline in India’s tiger population appears to be caused by encroaching farmlands as India’s population grows (Kaur, 2017).
2. The decline in India’s tiger population is most definitely caused by encroaching farmlands as India’s population grows (Kaur, 2017).
The first sentence sounds balanced and fair. The second sentence sounds arrogant and agenda-driven. A well-written paper has the power to influence a reader by demonstrating thorough research which is modestly presented, not via sensationalism.
4. Do Not Stereotype and Remain Gender-Neutral
When you express an evidentially supported point of view, you should do so without showing any bias. You cannot make gross generalisations or assumptions about people groups, whether they are based on beliefs, ethnicity, age, ability, gender, sexuality or other such attributes.
Furthermore, include these attributes only when it is relevant to the topic. For example, if you are writing about the consequences of Congolese women needing to fetch water daily, of what relevance would it be to state their religious beliefs?
Furthermore, and related to the attribute of gender, academic style leans toward gender-neutral language (unless the assignment topic actually pertains to gender). For example, ‘businessman’ is replaced by ‘business person’, ‘policeman’ is replaced by ‘police officer’, ‘male nurse’ is replaced by ‘nurse’, ‘female doctor’ is replaced by ‘doctor’, ‘chairman’ is replaced ‘chairperson’, and so on.
Compare the following statements:
1. Corporations are indirectly funding murder in the Congo to maintain a steady supply of ‘blood metals’ such as coltan, which is used in electronics (Alazaar, 2016).
2. Western multinational corporations are indirectly funding murder in the Congo to maintain a steady supply of ‘blood metals’ such as coltan, which is used in electronics (Alazaar, 2016).
While the first sentence is more acceptable in terms of academic style, the use of ‘western’ in the second sentence is a generalisation that causes division among readers. Secondly, while the generalised statement is believed to be true by the student who wrote it, it happens to be untrue since all electronics use ‘blood metals’ such as coltan, not only those produced by western multinationals. Either way, the stereotype contributed nothing constructive or beneficial to the statement, and instead weakened its strength and credibility.
Note, ‘blood metals’ is used in inverted commas in this example because it is an informal or slang term. Colloquial language is not academic in style. However, since this is also a commonly accepted jargon term which is particularly relevant to the topic of the assignment, the student was able to include the term into his or her writing. By placing the informal term in inverted commas, the student acknowledges that this is a colloquial term but demonstrates that it is being used appropriately in an otherwise formally-written assignment. If you are unsure whether you can include a colloquial or slang term which you believe is also a highly relevant jargon term for your paper, you should check with your lecturer or subject tutor at your university. Convey to them why you would like to include this particular term, how it contributes or adds to your paper, and that you will define the term in your writing for the reader.
5. Cut Personal Language and Personal Pronouns
In most cases, you should not refer to yourself in academic writing, so personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘we’ should be omitted from your assignment. However, there are exceptions to this rule as discussed in the ‘Tip’ section above. As discussed in that section, you should cross-check with your lecturer or subject tutor regarding the use of personal pronouns.
Aside from being personal pronouns, ‘we’ and ‘our’ convey gross generalisations. I discussed why we avoid generalising in academic writing in the first paragraph of the fourth point above.
Removing personal pronouns does not necessarily mean the difference between choosing between active or passive voice. It may merely mean replacing ‘In this essay, I will discuss…’ with ‘This essay discusses…’, ‘This shows us that…’ with ‘This shows that…’, ‘My approach to this was to…’ with ‘One method considered was…’, ‘In my research, I found that…’ with ‘The research showed that…’, and so on.
Compare the following statements:
1. Communism offers both benefits and drawbacks for the people of China.
2. Communism offers both benefits and drawbacks for the people of my country, China.
The first sentence is not personal, remains factual and conveys no cause for potential bias in the sentences and paragraphs which follow. In the second sentence, ‘my country’ contributes no added value to the statement. The fact that China is your country of origin is irrelevant to the purpose of your writing. In fact, the reader may now be concerned that your paper carries bias, as it appears you are no longer writing objectively.
Paragraph Examples of Writing Subjectively versus Writing Objectively
Donna Velliaris (2014, pp.3-4) at the University of Adelaide provides an excellent example of a paragraph written twice, once subjectively and again objectively. Her example paragraphs also touch on a range of other issues pertaining to academic style such as wordiness, academic vocabulary and phrasal verbs, but I won’t cover all the topic of academic writing in this one article.
Writing SubjectivelyVelliaris, D 2014, Objective Language: Writing Centre Learning Guide, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, viewed 5 February 2019, https://www.adelaide.edu.au/writingcentre/sites/default/files/docs/learningguide-objectivelanguage.pdf
Indeed, there are countless values that are shared by our Australian community and which are extremely relevant to the life-threatening issue of compulsory childhood immunisation. Of course, the protection of the health and well-being of Australian kids must be a shared response. Obviously, they are such vulnerable creatures who cannot protect themselves and it is the full responsibility of the Australian community to stop endangering their fragile lives. Mandatory childhood immunisation policy is definitely consistent with the view we share as Australians, that is, our children’s healthcare is a total priority. Clearly, if childhood immunity is not vigorously promoted across Australia, then all our children will contract ghastly vaccine-preventable diseases leading to death!! So, enforcing childhood immunisation programs TODAY is the only logical way for us to watch over the precious youth of our nation.
There are a number of values that are shared by the Australian community and which are relevant to the issue of compulsory childhood immunisation. The protection of the health and well-being of Australian children should be a shared response (Australian Government, 2007). Children can be seen as potentially vulnerable individuals who do not have the capacity to protect and promote their own healthcare, and it is therefore the responsibility of the state and the Australian community at large to behave in ways that do not endanger their lives. It can be argued that a mandatory childhood immunisation policy would be consistent with the view shared by many Australians, that is, children’s healthcare needs should be considered a priority (Anton et al., 2005, p.24). If childhood immunity is not promoted across Australia, then children may become at risk of contracting a variety of vaccine-preventable diseases leading to possible death (Gray & Davies, 2004, p.201). Enforcing timely childhood immunisation programs, therefore, would be highly beneficial for protecting the youth of this nation.
Task: Choose the More Objective Statement
Choose whether each of the following statements are objective or subjective.
This article was proofread with Grammarly.