8. 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:

However, while this is true for a few individuals, it is important to remember that people are not ready to abandon normal social behaviour in favour of more ‘enlightened’ ways of living.

Instead, tentative language is used:

However, while this may be true for a few individuals, it is important to remember that most people are not ready to abandon normal social behaviour in favour of more ‘enlightened’ ways of living.

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. Survey results indicate that some social conformity actually decreases individual stress levels.

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 that continuous striving for individual self-expression can have negative effects on mental health.

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 people like Donald Shimoda who reject their traditional responsibilities, they may feel isolated from others who maintain these responsibilities, and become depressed.


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. An emphasis on extreme self-expression 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 people’s need for individual self-expression is to increase the amount of hours devoted to the creative arts during their school education.


5. Use nouns

The following nouns are often used to hedge:

probability     possibility       evidence         likelihood       indication

E.g. The likelihood that writers will continue to explore the conflict between social conformity and individual self-expression is high.

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.