Hedging or using language cautiously

In your academic writing it is important to support any opinions with relevant, logical arguments. It is often sensible to use an appropriate amount of cautious language to reflect how sure you are of your opinions, but also to indicate that your opinions are open to argument.

Examples of hedging are shown in this paragraph in BOLD:

In your writing it is quite possible that you will want to create a degree of distance between yourself and a claim made by another writer. Distance can be established between the writer and the claim by the effective and appropriate use of language. This use of language has been called "hedging" (Lakoff, 1972). He claims that it tends to take a number of forms. This could be argued to be a feature of academic writing, perhaps because writers might tend to want to be cautious in presenting their claim or avoid making inaccurate or false claims. It could be argued that much of what is written in academia is not always presented as certainty. You will probably find through reading in any academic field a heavy use of language structures that allow the writer(s) to do this.

Learn to hedge or use language cautiously

Hedgingis an important way of expressing yourself in academic writing. It means being academically cautious and not making bold statements that cannot be supported. There is a particular language associated with hedging, which will help you to achieve this effect in your writing.

Here are some verbs you can use in attributing claims to other writers, with an indication of how far you agree with the writer's opinion.

These verbs show that you are convinced by a writer's conclusion:

  • The writer proves...
  • The writer demonstrates...
  • The writer indicates...
  • The writer points out...
  • The writer shows...

The following verbs are more neutral. They could lead onto an opposing view from another writer or yourself:

  • The writer argues...
  • The writer claims...
  • The writer suggests...

These verbs suggest that you are in some way sceptical about the writer's findings:

  • The writer attempts to show/demonstrate...
  • The writer tries to show/demonstrate...

SOURCE: The Open University (2011)

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