Hedging language can make a big difference to the way you express your ideas and opinions in academic writing.
The language of hedging includes:
- Adverbs of frequency (sometimes or often but not ALWAYS)
- Quantifiers (some or many but not ALL)
- Modals (may or might, but not WILL)
- ‘Cautious’ verbs (indicate, suggest, appear)
- Modal adverbs (possibly, arguably)
- Modifiers (quite, somewhat)
See the full list below.
In this lesson you’ll learn the purpose and benefits of hedging, plus 9 examples that you can use NOW to make your writing sound more academic in Writing Task 2.
What is ‘hedging’ language?
Compare the two statements below. Which one is more appropriate for academic writing?
‘Young people prefer to eat fast food.’
‘It is often thought that many young people tend to eat food which may be considered to be unhealthy. Although some youngsters might go to fast food outlets quite regularly when compared to older age groups, evidence suggests that in general this assumption is largely untrue’.
Why is hedging important?
In academic writing it is REALLY important to show the difference between
- your opinion
- the facts
A simple way to do this is to say ‘In my opinion’ or ‘I believe/think that…’
e.g. ‘I believe that young people prefer to eat fast food’.
But you can’t do this for every sentence.
So if you’re not 100% sure that your claims are correct (you have no evidence to support your claims*) you need to ‘hedge’.
[*claim (noun) = a statement that something is true, even though it has not been proved]
Hedging (or ‘being cautious’) has many benefits:
- It stops the reader from dismissing your claims or disagreeing with you
- It allows you to tell the reader how sure you are about your claims
- It helps you to avoid generalisations
- It stops you from presenting your ideas as facts
- It shows your awareness of the ‘bigger picture’
- It makes your language more precise
How to use hedging language
Look again at the long sentence I wrote (Sentence 2 above).
How many examples of hedging can you identify?
‘[It is often thought that] [many] young people [tend to] eat food [which may be considered to be] unhealthy. [Although] [some] youngsters [might] go to fast food outlets [quite] [regularly] [when compared to older age groups], [evidence suggests] that [in general] this [assumption] is [largely] untrue‘.
You can see that if you take out the hedging [in brackets] you are left with a statement that may be untrue, inaccurate or just too general.
Here are some options for you to use in your own writing:
- ‘It’ and ‘That’ clauses
- Adverbs of frequency
- Hedging verbs
‘It’ and ‘That’ clauses
- It is often thought that
- It could be suggested that
- It might be the case that
- It is generally agreed that
- It is (un)likely that
- There is a possibility that
- There is every hope/likelihood that
Adverbs of frequency
- hardly ever
- the majority (of)
- a few
- a minority of
- a fraction of
- a proportion of
- in certain situations
- to some extent
- tend to/ have a tendency to
- appear to
- seem to
- , which may suggest that…
- , which may indicate that..
- which appears to be
- has the potential to
- has the possibility of
- is able to
- is considered to be
- can be described as
- is sometimes labelled as
- the term is often used to mean…
- in general
- as a rule
- when compared to
- in comparison with
- more/less than
- in a (kinder) way than
- evidence suggests that
- evidence appears to indicate that
- There is some evidence which indicates that
Hedging language practice
Task 1: Can you spot the hedging in these sentences?
Task 2: Take this generalisation and ‘hedge’ it e.g.
‘Men prefer science subjects whereas women choose arts subjects’.
There are many ways of re-writing this to make it sound more academic e.g.
- It is often assumed that most men prefer to study science-related subjects when compared with women who traditionally have tended to favour the arts.
- Although it seems likely that the majority of science students are male, evidence suggests that this is more to do with tradition than with inherent gender differences.
- In the past, it was widely thought that male students were better suited to studying science than their female counterparts, who were often encouraged to study the arts.
If you are new to hedging, there is a danger that you might hedge too much and use too many ‘redundant’ words (words that you don’t need to say).
Here are some examples that I wrote when I was trying to create the ‘hedging sentence’ that I posted at the start of this blog.
Topic: The danger of video games
‘Video games make people violent’.
Too much hedging:
‘It is often thought by some people that perhaps many youngsters might possibly prefer to spend a large proportion of their time playing video games that might be considered as arguably having the potential to be dangerous in certain circumstances.’
Appropriate level of hedging:
- ‘There is some evidence to suggest that video games may be linked to violence.’
- ‘It is often thought that playing video games can have a harmful effect on young people’.
Topic: British food
‘British food is awful.’
Too much hedging:
‘It is likely that some aspects of British cuisine might arguably be considered to be somewhat bland when compared to other cuisines which tend to favour using a wider variety of flavourings which have the potential to produce food which can safely be labelled as ‘tasty’.
Appropriate level of hedging
‘British food is often considered to be somewhat lacking in variety when compared to the cuisines of other countries’.
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