Perspective, Opinion, and Point Of View — Distinctions That Matter To Writers And Readers

by Randy Murray on January 6, 2011

I started another article, which you’ll likely see next week, about the importance of understanding and questioning perspective. But I think there is probably some significant confusion over just what perspective is. So today I’ll present a brief primer on the critical differences between perspective, opinion, and point of view and why writers must master these distinctions.

I see a lot of people using these three terms interchangeably, but they are quite separate and distinct things. Understood and used properly, they can be important tools for writers.

First, let’s lay out the definitions:

Perspective: Perspective is the mental state that combines available facts and personal ideas to shape a meaningful whole to the individual.

Opinion: Opinion is a belief, often firmly expressed as a judgment, but which does not rise to the level of fact. Opinions can be changed as new facts and ideas are presented to the individual.

Point Of View – Point of view or POV can be used to describe one’s physical or mental relationship to an object or event. You, or your characters, always have a specific POV.

Perspective can be based on facts or purely on conjecture and opinions, but it is the individual’s attempt to make sense of a subject or the world as a whole. It can be assembled from opinions, beliefs, and observations. This differs from point of view in that, with point of view, one can shift one’s relationship with an event or object and still hold the same opinions.

For the writer, these elements must be very clearly distinguished, not only for fiction, but for any form of communication. Confusing these elements makes one’s writing murky and difficult to sort out for the reader. Writers who master these elements are able to let the reader explore the world through others eyes and to touch their thoughts. In fiction, the writer can use these tools to create distinct and seemingly real characters and build a growing understanding in the reader.  The writer of fiction has a technical point of view to deal with as well, that of in what voice the story is told: first person, third person, etc. I’ll devote a future post to that subject.

Business and marketing writers use these elements to help the reader feel included, to be won over, convinced. These are the tools that can help expository writing carry arguments that cannot be simply won through a recitation of clear facts; for instance, why your product or approach is better than some competitor’s.

Try this thought experiment: think of walking outside your home into the street. Once outside, stop. If you look to your left, you are taking that specific point of view, the view from where you are standing to whatever you see on your left. If your eyes were cameras they would capture a well-defined picture. Now step into the imaginary camera crane that is waiting there for you. As you’re lifted above the ground, your POV shifts, but you are also presented with a wider, bigger understanding of what you saw before.

What you see or think at any moment comes from a point of view. How you understand it in relationship to other objects or ideas is your perspective. What you state about it beyond simple fact is your opinion.

In the coming weeks I’ll present a series of Writing Assignments that will help you to develop the skills to use these three tools and to strengthen your writing by understanding and demonstrating the differences.

Perspective, Opinion, and Point Of View — Distinctions That Matter To Writers And Readers by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mari January 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I appreciate reading the writers who master these distinctions and your explaining the strategy for their correct implementation. Looking forward to more Writing Assignments on the subject!

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Thorsten May 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

An easy comprehensible explanation. Me as a non-native english speaker benefited a lot! Many terms are hard to distinguish in a foreign language so I’m always looking for goldmines like this.

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