A feature of academic writing is the need to be cautious in one’s statements in order to distinguish between facts and claims. This feature is termed 'hedging'. Hedging can be defined as the use of linguistic devices to show hesitation or uncertainty and to display politeness and indirectness. Hedging is absolutely crucial in good academic writing and hedged words are said to account for 1 in every 100 words.
When writing for academic disciplines it is necessary not only to show that you are able to write in a formal, abstract fashion, but also that you are able to show the extent to which you believe in, or are prepared to stand up for, what you are reporting/claiming.
People use hedged language for several different purposes but perhaps the most fundamental are the following:
• to minimise the possibility of another academic/teacher/lecturer/colleague/student opposing the claims you are making
• to enable you as a writer to be more precise when reporting results, e.g. you can show that something is not 100% proven, but rather that it is indicated and subsequently assumed.
• to enable you to execute a politeness strategy in which you are able to acknowledge that perhaps there may be flaws in your claims
• to conform to a now accepted practice writing style
To raise your awareness of the value of hedging language in academic writing
To guide you through a series of activities designed to help you build a vocabulary of hedging expressions
To provide you with a supported framework in which you can practice using hedging expressions.
There are many different ways in which language can be 'hedged'. These include using modal verbs such as 'may' and 'might', using modal nouns such as 'probability' and 'assumption', using lexical verbs which denote a sense of caution i.e. 'assume' and 'indicate' and by using expressions which show a sense of caution or vagueness, i.e. 'it can be argued that' or 'it is likely to be the case that'.
Decide which of the sentences below are considered to be academically competent. That is, the ones which use a hedged expression to make a claim. Tick yes, if you think the sentence could be effective in helping you to support your claims in an academic essay and no if you think it would not be effective in helping you to support your claims in an academic essay. You will find an example below to help you make your first decision.
The 'management' of danger is also not the sort of language to appear within policy documents that refer to GRT children, where it might be construed to reflect systematic failures in schools. The hedge is in the words 'it might be construed to reflect'.
The 'management' of danger is also not the sort of language to appear within policy documents that refer to GRT children, which reflects systematic failures in schools. This sentence does not use hedging language. It makes a strong claim and makes no attempt to use cautious language. It is a very direct and very certain claim. This could be seen as impolite and also academically naive.
Q1. Viewing a movie in which alcohol is portrayed appears to lead to higher total alcohol consumption of young people while watching the movie.
Q2. Furthermore, this proves that humans are wired to imitate.
Q3. It is unquestionable that our survey proved that the portrayal of alcohol and drinking characters in movies directly leads to more alcohol consumption in young adult male viewers when alcohol is available within the situation.
Q4. Implications of these findings may be that, if moderation of alcohol consumption in certain groups is strived for, it may be sensible to cut down on the portrayal of alcohol in programmes aimed at these groups and the commercials shown in between.
Q5. This effect might occur regardless of whether it concerns a real-life interaction (Quigley & Collins, 1999).
Q6. It definitely proves that a movie in which a lot of partying is involved triggers a social process between two participants that affects total drinking amounts.
Being able to identify which sentences are using hedged expressions is the first step in learning how to use hedged expressions yourself. Being able to identify the actual words which infer caution is the next step. In the following exercise we will concentrate on identifying the actual words which suggest you are being cautious in your claims.
Decide which of the words and phrases in the sentences below express signs of caution, vagueness or playing down of claims. Check the box next to the word which shows caution and then check your answers with the feedback. There may be more than one correct answer.
1. It is believed that alcohol related health problems are on the rise.
2. Drinking to excess, or 'binge drinking' is often the cause of inappropriate behaviour amongst teenagers.
3. It seems as though the experiment conducted simply confirms suspicions held by the academic and medical professions.
4. However, attrition was greatest among the heaviest drinking segment of the sample, suggesting under-estimation in the findings, and although the study provided associational, prospective evidence on alcohol advertising effects on youth drinking, it addressed limitations of other research, particularly the unreliability of exposure measures based on self-reporting (Synder and Slater, 2006).
5. These differences may be due to the fact participants reporting higher consumption levels were primed to overrate their weekly drinking by the condition they were in.
6. The crack tends to grow into the more brittle material and then stay in there, whether the initial crack tip lies in the graded material or in the more ductile material (and thereafter advances across the graded layer.
7. It seems likely that the details of the predictions depend on the assumed variations of the toughness parameter and the yield stress.
8. If a real physical system shows a variation of both material properties across the graded layer, the assumed linear variation may not give the best approximation.
9. The idea of 'community' in terms of GRT lives is very strong and could be seen to correspond to some of the nostalgic constructs that non-GRT groups place on 'community'.
10. This scatter can be attributed to the difficulties in measuring the dent depth due to specimen processing.
Sometimes, a hedge is expressed through a modal verb, but at other times, it is achieved through using a noun. In the following exercise you can see the different ways in which hedging can be achieved.
Look at the list of words above the check boxes. Decide which type of word or phrase this is. Check the most appropriate check box before checking your answer with the feedback button.
It can be argued that...
It can thus be concluded that...
One can assume that...
In the following activity you will begin to construct hedged sentences.
Complete the sentence by choosing the appropriate word from the list.
concluded / suggested / proven / estimated
1. It can be that, for young adult males, the portrayal of alcohol on a television screen might lead to increased alcohol consumption.
will / may / must
2. ..., which have been the case when they entered our laboratory setting alone.
definite / unlikely / normal
3. It is not that the characters in the movies are generally regarded as positive (McIntosh et al., 1999), which should add to the low level priming effect of observing drinking behaviour.
should / could / may
4. When in real life, anticipation of others' reactions be among the causes of imitation.
will / would / must
5. Nevertheless, from an experimental perspective, it be better to a) compare a movie without any alcohol portrayals versus a movie with many alcohol portrayals or b) to use one movie but to do careful editing to leave out all alcohol scenes in one version.
probable / possible / definite
should / will / might
6. Furthermore, it is also that besides imitation, the activation of alcohol norms appeals to pre-existing norms and expectancies of people, which lead to alcohol intake, or that alcohol portrayals on films and in commercials function as a cue that affects craving in drinkers (Larsen et al,. 2009)
if / whether / that
7. However, it is unknown the underlying mechanisms differ for food or drink portrayals in the media
cause / case / reason
could / appears / may
8. If this is the , the actual effect of the portrayal of alcohol be even stronger.
Indications / Implications / Deductions
Might / May / Must
Appear / May / Would
9. of these findings be that, if moderation of alcohol consumption in certain groups is strived for, it be sensible to cut down on the portrayal of alcohol in programmes aimed at these groups and the commercials shown in between.
could / should / would
10. It be interesting to test whether the effects of alcohol commercials are beverage specific
In this activity you will coplete hedged expressions using vocabulary you have looked at in previous acativities. You will not be given a choice of words.
Complete the expressions using a word of your own choice. Remember to use 'cautious' language and to 'hedge'.
The present results further that the estimated effect of body fatness on LVM depends largely on the particular combination of body-size and body-fatness predictors chosen for the LVM models.
Although adults with higher BMI values to be more obese, BMI per se does not provide information on relative amounts of FFM and fat mass, nor does it estimate the absolute value of body fat.
It is that after the placebo preload, participants became more wary of the task, perhaps owing to the previous experience of having to inhibit responses suddenly after the habit-forming in blocks 2 and 4.
Thus, it be that in accordance with Marinkovic et al.'s (2000) data, a moderate dose of alcohol has basic motor disinhibiting effects.
However, as the effects were seen on latencies not on error commission during the no-go condition, it be that a priming dose of alcohol may have a greater effect on active approach systems like BAS.
In this last interactive activity you will answer questions related to hedging. If you have spent time working your way through the previous activities you should find the quiz poses no obstacles for you.
Click on the link, open the quiz and answer the questions. You will be prompted to try again if you do not guess the answer correctly. You can try as many times as you like to answer the questions.
Anderson, P, de Bruijn, A, Angus, K, Gordon, R & Hastings, G. 2009. The impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Alcohol & Alcoholism. 44/3. 229-243.
Engels, R.C.M.E., Hermans, R, van Baaren, R.B., Hollenstein, T & Bot, S.M. 2009. Alcohol portrayal on television affects actual drinking behaviour. Alcohol & Alcoholism. 44/3. 244-249
Larsen H, Engels RCME, Granic I et al. (2009) An experimental study on imitation of alcohol consumption in same-sex dyads. Alcohol (resubmission).
Marinkovic, K., Halgren, E., Klopp, J. et al. (2000). Alcohol effects on movement-related potentials: a measure of impulsivity? Journal of Studies on Alcohol 61. 24 - 31
McIntosh WD, Smith SM, Bazzini DG et al. (1999) Alcohol in the movies: characteristics of drinkers and non-drinkers in films from 1940 to 1989. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 29. 1191–9.
Myers, M & Bhopal, K. 2009 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Children in Schools: Understandings of Community and Safety. British Journal of Educational Studies 57/4. pp 417 - 434
Rose, A.K. & Duka, T. 2007. The influence of alcohol on basic motoric and cognitive disinhibition. Alcohol & Alcoholism. 42/6. 544-551
Shah, Q. 2009. Impact resistance of a rectangular polycarbonate armour plate subjected to. International Journal of Impact Engineering. 36. 1128 - 1235
Shifan, D., Harrist, R.B., Rosenthal, G.L.& Labarthe, D.R. 2009. Effects of body size and body fatness on left ventricular mass in children and adolescents project heartbeat!. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 37/1. 97 - 101
Snyder, L., Flemming Milici , F., Slater,M., Sun, H. & Strihakova, Y. (2006) Effects of Alcohol Advertising Exposure on Drinking Among Youth. Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 60. 18 – 24
© Jessica Cooper/ 2010/ Queen Mary University of London / Photograph used under a creative commons attributions license courtesy of Caitlinator