Tentative or cautious language called hedging is an important feature of academic writing in English. It means being academically cautious and not making bold statements that cannot be supported. Direct statements or statements implying full certainty should be avoided in academic writing unless they are warranted. Using cautious or tentative language known as hedging allows ideas, arguments, evaluations and conclusions expressed in writing to remain open to interpretation by the reader.
Writers choose to use hedging so that statements do not seem to rely simply on personal opinion. Using hedging helps them to indicate the level of certainty they have in relation to the evidence or support. When writers are not 100% certain of a point they are making, they should use hedging expressions. There is a certain language associated with hedging, which should be used in academic writing:
- Modal auxiliary verbs, such as can, could, may, might, should and would, g.,
RIGHT: The risks of this new vaccine may have been overestimated.
WRONG: The risks of this new vaccine have been overestimated.
- Lexical verbs, such as appear, assume, believe, look, seem suggest, tend, etc., e.g.,
RIGHT: Johnson (2007) appears to ignore the adverse psychological side-effects of this approach.
WRONG: Johnson (2007) ignores the adverse psychological side-effects of this approach.
- Adverbs of frequency, such as generally, often, sometimes, usually, g.,
RIGHT: Dogs often protect their owners.
WRONG: Dogs protect their owners.
- Modal adverbs, such as conceivably, likely, perhaps, possibly, probably, g.,
RIGHT: The use of this methodology will likely produce more reliable findings.
WRONG: The use of this methodology will produce more reliable findings.
For more information on the use of hedging, please refer to the following resources:
- http://www.ncl.ac.uk/students/wdc/learning/language/hedging.htm (Writing Development Centre: Newcastle University)
- https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/683/04/ (Purdue Online Writing Lab OWL)
- http://aeo.sllf.qmul.ac.uk/Files/Hedging/Hedging.html (Academic English Online: Queen Mary University of London)