In this article, I explore why hedging (i.e. using tentative or cautious language) will improve your grades in academic writing. Also, I will provide an interactive activity for you to practice hedging
In my last article, Writing Objectively for University: Your 5-point Checklist, I introduced hedging in my third point. Today’s post is an extension of that point.
As a refresher, here are some examples of hedged statements. I’ve underlined for you the vocabulary used to hedge these claims.
1. A probable explanation is that these frequent storms are a result of climate change.
2. Severe weather is likely to become more common in the future.
3. Carbon dioxide levels frequently exceed the World Health Organization’s recommended levels in many cities.
Why Should You Hedge Your Claims?
Assertive language is used to convey an undisputable or definite statement. An example of an assertive statement is ‘All Australians need more exercise’. When hedging your findings, assumptions or claims, you should choose not to be 100% assertive about them. Sounds ironic, right? Surely you would get better grades if you are confident in your research! Yes and no.
You should be confident in your research. However, you should only use assertive language when your claim is proven or not open for any doubt or debate. This is rarely the case. Therefore, we nearly always use cautious language, acknowledging that there is still room for doubt and further questioning. For example, ‘It appears that most Australians could benefit from more exercise’.
Still not convinced tentative language is generally better than assertive language in academic writing? Here are five reasons why you should hedge your sentences in academic writing:
- Considering how much material is available on your topic, there is the possibility that you’ve overlooked some possible evidence. There may still be a convincing case for an alternative conclusion to the claim you are making.
- The results of individual studies are rarely 100% conclusive, and your findings may later be shown to be inaccurate, based on false assumptions, or interpreted incorrectly.
- New discoveries are being made all the time as technology, research and practices in various disciplines evolve. What we believe we know today can change tomorrow when new discoveries are made.
- Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Data is often interpreted differently by different researchers and academics.
- By leaving the door open to encourage further questioning on a topic, you demonstrate you are concerned about searching for the truth. Being concerned about reaching the truth of a matter rather than just being right improves your credibility as an academic writer.
Vocabulary for Hedging
In the column on the left in the table below is some vocabulary you rarely find in academic writing. This is because they convey unreasonable certainty. By contrast, in the column on the right are substitute words and phrases you will often see in academic writing. This is because they are more cautious and tentative.
|Rarely Used||Often Used|
On the whole
A majority of
A number of
|A minority of
Don’t have to
Don’t need to
Task: Hedging Your Claims
What was your score out of 30?
Don’t worry if you got some wrong. This task was not easy. Check with your local English teacher for support.
This article was proofread with Grammarly.