When evaluating information, it's very important to be able to separate fact from opinion. Objective information is based on unbiased facts, whereas subjective information is based on opinion and conjecture. Both types are valuable, as long as the difference between objective vs. subjective information is clear.
The words subjective and objective only differ by a few letters, but they are not close in meaning. The terms can both be used to describe information, but that is where their similarity ends. Objective and subjective data do not provide the same types of insights into whatever is being analyzed or evaluated.
- objective - When a person is being objective, that individual is considering a situation or basing decisions solely on verifiable facts.
- subjective - When a person is being subjective, the individual is influenced by their own thoughts, opinions or biases related to a situation.
Objective data considers only what can be directly observed, counted or otherwise measured. Subjective data involves taking into account perceptions, feelings and reactions.
- A survey question that asks respondents to report who they plan to vote for in a particular election provides an objective measure of how many or what percent of respondents plan to vote for each candidate.
- A follow-up question on the same survey that asks respondents to explain why they support some candidates and why they don't support others provides subjective information about voter motivation.
Observational research can be objective or subjective. The determining factor is based on exactly what is being measured.
- If a researcher is seeking to measure the number of times speakers say "um," "uh," "like," or "erm" in certain presentations, that person is conducting objective observational research. The guidelines are so clearcut that anyone who listens to the same communication events will get the same results.
- If a researcher is doing a content analysis to determine how often women are portrayed negatively in prime time TV shows, the individual is conducting subjective observational research. That person's opinion about what constitutes negative treatment will impact what circumstances get counted as a negative portrayal.
Tests can have objective or subjective questions or a combination of the two. Objective test questions have specific correct and incorrect answers that are a matter of fact.
- A question that asks students to state or identify what part of speech a person, place or thing is would be an example of an objective question. The answer is noun. This is a fact rather than a matter of opinion. The answer will either be correct or incorrect.
- A test question that asks students to list and describe their favorite holiday and include a statement about why they like it is a subjective question. The response will be the student's opinion rather than a verifiable fact. This does not test knowledge of holidays, but rather provides a way to evaluate writing skills.
To get a better idea of using subjective vs. objective appropriately, review a few sentence examples that use the terms correctly.
- It's easier for teachers to grade objective multiple-choice and true/false questions than to score subjective essay questions.
- It is very difficult to avoid letting subjective factors like effort and sincerity influence student grades in public speaking class.
- Taste is very subjective, so the fact that I like onions doesn't mean that you will also like them.
- Journal writing is very subjective, but it is a valuable educational undertaking for middle school and high school students.
- Objectively, I know I should buy the less-expensive practical car, but my heart really is set on the flashy sports car.
- Managers shouldn't investigate their own employees because it's too difficult to be objective with people you know very well.
- If your own child is competing, you cannot serve as a judge because it would be difficult or impossible to evaluate all entries in an objective matter.
The question of whether morality is objective or subjective is an interesting philosophical and psychological question. While not everyone agrees to which specific behaviors or actions represent ones that are moral, there is an objective element to morality.
For example, actions that deliberately cause harm to another person are generally considered to be immoral from an objective perspective. However, dealing with ethical dilemmas requires subjective decision making. To learn more on this topic, explore the difference between ethics, morals and values. Then, consider what you learn in the context of social justice issues.
Now that you are familiar with the difference between the words objective and subjective, continue to expand your vocabulary by learning to differentiate between other similar words. Start by exploring the difference between data and information. This can help you learn how to tell the difference between good and bad research questions, which will serve you well as you move forward in your educational journey.