Objectivity and Subjectivity
As a professional writer, you may be asked by editors or publishers to write using a variety of methods. Two of the most common viewpoints that you will be expected to understand are "objectivity" and "subjectivity".
Objective versus SubjectiveWhen you look at a topic area from an objective viewpoint, you are looking at it as an outsider or "third person". Like a "fly on the wall", you are simply reporting what you see.
Take, for instance, a party. An objective narrative might sound something like this:
|The private party room was about the size of a small airplane cabin. Roger and Mabel were dancing together. Rita was eating a piece of chocolate éclair that she had cut into three bites. "This is amazing!" she said, licking the pudding from her fingers. A Labrador retriever was sleeping in the corner.|
Notice that there are no emotions in this report that can be attributed to the author. Instead, the one quote that has feeling was actually said by someone else. Hence, the audience can draw its own conclusions based on the available data.
Alternatively, take a look at the same party from a subjective standpoint where the writer inserts his or her own interpretations into the mix.
|The private party room was cramped. Although Roger and Mabel managed to dance with one another, they looked as if their steps were uncomfortable and stilted. Poor Rita had to satisfy herself by eating. Though she said, "This is amazing," as she munched on an éclair, it was obvious she was being sarcastic. The party was so boring that the dog in the corner couldn't even stay awake!|
The subjectivity of the above paragraph is obvious and changes the meaning of the article completely because the author has inserted his or her personal feelings on the party. No longer is the reader invited to interpret the scene; instead, the writer does it for him or her.
When to Use Objectivity/SubjectivitySometimes, it's difficult to determine when and where to use objectivity or subjectivity. Even proficient and experienced journalists sometimes allow subjectivity to seep into their impartial reporting (and it's usually the cause of a barrage of letters to the editor).
Therefore, it's critical to learn when not to editorialise, especially when writing non-fiction pieces.
For instance, in a human interest story, it might be appropriate to add subjectivity to the mix. After all, the author is trying to evoke a certain human response from his or her audience, and one of the best ways to do that is to take the audience on a journey from his or her viewpoint.
However, in a news piece about a local fire or other emergency, it's best to stick to objectivity. Obtain quotes from experts, but leave out your own personal opinions, as they'll only clutter the article.
Of course, sometimes there are "gray" areas where either subjective or objective viewpoints could be acceptable.
As an example, a writer might have to make a "judgment call" if he or she is given the assignment to put together an article about an historic locale. Does the editor want a critique of the place? Or is he or she simply interested in providing the readership with a general guide of the site? At times like these, it is always best for the writer to ask his or her supervisor for guidance before beginning his or her research.