Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

The concept fact has several related meanings but all imply a discrete contemporary or historical existent phenomenon.

explanatory context

First, a fact is a datum of experience. It is the result of empirical observation and is thus often referred to as an empirical fact. Empirical facts are often assigned a truth value on the basis of observation. In this case, the assignment of truth to a fact is disputable both for the accuracy of the observation and for the theoretical context which enables the observation to be specified as a fact; the theory laden nature of observation.


Second, fact is used to refer to a premise of a logical argument or object of a theoretical model. Facts as premises are assigned arbitrary truth values. That is, the argument or model exists independently of the truth value of the facts contained within the premises or model.


Third, fact is used in the sense of a true fact, that is an immutable fact, known to be the case. This is the view that a 'fact is a fact'. It underpins empiricism and positivism, which assert that knowledge consists of the organisation and explanation of verified facts. This approach is evident in positivistically informed quantitative social research which addresses social facts.

analytical review

New World Encyclopedia contributors (2013):

Generally, a fact is defined as something that is true, something that can be verified according to an established standard of evaluation. There is a range of other uses, depending on the context. For example, fact may be argued under the authority of a specific discipline, such as scientific facts or historical facts. Rhetorical assertion of fact is often forwarded without an implied or express basis of authority.

Although the term fact often implies objectivity and truth, it is not so obvious that facts are free from interpretation; some argue that facts are established only within certain frameworks of thought and value perspectives. For example, historians understand historical facts within a certain context of understanding. Similarly facts in social sciences are established by social scientists according to certain theoretical assumptions and value perspectives. Statistical data is determined by the methodology that is used. Even in the natural sciences, facts are meaningful only within certain theoretical frameworks. The issue is closely related with the concept of objectivity and issues regarding the universality of truth.

associated issues


related areas

See also

social fact

theory laden nature of observation

Researching the Real World Section 1.4.2


New World Encyclopedia contributors, 2013, 'Fact', New World Encyclopedia, last updated 12 October2013, available at:, accessed 22 May 2017, still available 3 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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