Skip to content
Home » Academic English » What is Academic English? » Academic hedging

Academic hedging

Academic hedging is a crucial strategy used in writing to present claims or findings with a degree of caution or uncertainty, rather than asserting them as absolute truths. This approach allows authors to make their statements more nuanced and acknowledges the complexity of academic inquiry. Below, is the explanation of academic hedging with example sentences, expanding each point to illustrate its application in various contexts:

  1. Use of Modal Verbs: Modal verbs such as could, might, and may suggest possibility rather than certainty.
    • Original: “The treatment eliminates the disease.”
    • Hedged: “The treatment might eliminate the disease in some cases.”
    • Further explanation: This hedged statement recognizes that the treatment’s effectiveness can vary depending on individual circumstances or additional factors not covered in the study.
  2. Use of Tentative Language: Words like possibly, potentially, and likely introduce uncertainty.
    • Original: “Exercise improves cognitive function.”
    • Hedged: “Exercise is likely to improve cognitive function, according to recent studies.”
    • Further explanation: By adding “according to recent studies,” the sentence acknowledges the source of the information and suggests that new evidence could modify the current understanding.
  3. Use of Approximations: Phrases such as about, approximately, and roughly estimate quantities or degrees of certainty.
    • Original: “50% of the participants showed improvement.”
    • Hedged: “Approximately 50% of the participants showed improvement.”
    • Further explanation: The use of “approximately” indicates that the figure is an estimate, suggesting a recognition of the potential for variation in the data.
  4. Use of Passive Voice: The passive voice can depersonalize statements, making them seem less direct and more tentative.
    • Original: “We found that the drug was ineffective.”
    • Hedged: “It was found that the drug was ineffective.”
    • Further explanation: Using the passive voice removes the active agent (the researchers) from the sentence, which can make the claim appear more as an observation than a direct conclusion.
  5. Use of Conditionals: Conditionals, using if or unless, suggest that a statement is contingent upon certain conditions.
    • Original: “This theory explains the phenomenon.”
    • Hedged: “If the current assumptions are correct, this theory could explain the phenomenon.”
    • Further explanation: This rephrasing introduces the condition that the theory’s applicability depends on the validity of current assumptions, acknowledging the possibility of change if those assumptions are challenged.
  6. Use of Qualifiers: Words such as somewhat, relatively, and in general qualify the extent to which a statement is true.
    • Original: “The medication is effective.”
    • Hedged: “The medication is somewhat effective, particularly in early stages of the condition.”
    • Further explanation: Adding “particularly in early stages of the condition” specifies the context in which the medication tends to be effective, providing a more nuanced understanding.
  7. Reference to the Source of Information: Citing the source of a claim can hedge by attributing the information to another authority.
    • Original: “Eating late at night causes weight gain.”
    • Hedged: “According to Smith (2020), eating late at night can contribute to weight gain.”
    • Further explanation: Citing Smith (2020) not only adds credibility to the statement but also indicates that this is not an undisputed fact but rather the conclusion of a specific study.
  8. Use of Comparative Forms: Comparative forms such as more, less, and better suggest a relative rather than absolute judgment.
    • Original: “This method is effective.”
    • Hedged: “This method is more effective compared to previous methods, under certain conditions.”
    • Further explanation: By comparing the method to previous methods and specifying “under certain conditions,” the statement acknowledges that its effectiveness is not universal but dependent on specific variables.

These examples illustrate how academic hedging allows writers to convey their ideas with an appropriate level of caution, reflecting the complexity and ongoing nature of scholarly research.