7. Hedging

While you want to convince the reader that your arguments are valid, be careful not to use overly strong language. Expressing opinions or making claims in overly strong language leaves you open to attack by critical readers. Such statements will often be doubted by readers thereby reducing your power and authority as a writer. To avoid such a situation, when stating ideas, you should use tentative rather than assertive language. This is known as hedging.

For example, in the previous rebuttal paragraph, the writer could have sounded very assertive by saying:

They never verify the information they read and do not bother to spend time synthesising ideas in order to come to their own conclusion.


Instead, tentative language is used:


They tend to forgo verifying the information they read and are unlikely to spend time synthesising ideas in order to come to their own conclusion.


Below is a list of common hedging techniques.


1.  Use hedging verbs

The following ‘hedging’ verbs are often used in academic writing:

suggest                       indicate          estimate          imply                          

E.g. The results indicate that social networking sites can enhance the cohesion of communities.


The verb appear is used to ‘distance’ the writer from the findings (and therefore avoid making a strong claim and be subject to criticism from readers). 

E.g. On the evidence of the research findings, it would appear not all students can benefit equally from online learning. 


Note that the writer also ‘protects’ himself / herself by using the phrase on the evidence of. The following expressions are used in a similar way: according to, on the basis of, based on.    


2.  Use modal verbs

Another way of appearing ‘confidently uncertain’ is to use modal verbs such as may, might and could


E.g. In the case of students from low income families, they may feel disadvantaged by not having a stable Internet connection to follow online lessons.


3.  Use adverbs

The following adverbs are often used when a writer wishes to express caution.

probably                     possibly                      perhaps                      arguably        

            apparently                 seemingly                   presumably                conceivably   

E.g. As well as being divisive, the existence of fraudulent information is arguably a threat to the very principles of an egalitarian society.


4.  Use adjectives

Another technique is to use an adjective.

            probable         possible          arguable         unlikely           likely

E.g. A possible solution to address students’ Internet addiction is that universities can extend their intervention programmes to the management of student stress levels.

E.g. With timely intervention, it is likely that students will be able to handle their stress more effectively.


5.  Use nouns

The following nouns are often used to hedge:

probability     possibility       evidence         likelihood          indication    

E.g. The evidence suggests that undergraduates could benefit from more face-to-face social interaction on campus.

E.g. There is some indication in research literature that online gaming could lead to Internet addiction.

About this website

EWRite is an open access online literacy platform for PolyU community that has two major objectives:

  • to support PolyU students’ literacy development within and across the disciplines
  • to support subject and language teachers to implement system-level measures for integrating literacy-sensitive pedagogies across the university

This platform provides access to generic genre guides representing typical university assignments as well as links to subjects offered by faculties with specific disciplinary genres and relevant support materials.

The materials can be retrieved by students by choosing the genres that interest them on the landing page. Each set of materials includes a genre guide, genre video, and a genre checklist. The genre guide and video are to summarize the genres in two different ways (i.e. textual and dynamic) to fit different learning styles. The genre checklist is for students to self-regulate their writing process. The genre guide and checklist include links to various ELC resources that can provide further explanation to language items (e.g. hedging and academic vocabulary).

The platform also acts as a one-stop-shop for writing resources for students, language teachers and subject leaders. Information about the English Writing Requirement policy can also be found on this platform. There are training materials for new colleagues joining the EWR Liaison Team.