6.  Language features

Cautious language/ hedging

Using cautious language/ hedging is important when you write a literature review because you should be careful not to express absolute certainty in areas where there may be possibilities of doubt.

Words that could soften claims:

seem to, can/could/may/might be, probably/ possibly, likely/unlikely


Although the results seem to support previous findings,…

This discrepancy could be caused by …

The amount of plastic waste will probably increase…

It is likely that…


Evaluative language

To show your perspective on the literature, you may use evaluative language. Evaluative language can show whether you are positive or negative towards the claims in the literature and whether you agree or disagree with the claims presented.

 Evaluative language can be positive or negative:

•          positive: “effective,” “necessary,” “significant”

•          negative: “questionable,” “unclear,” “inconclusive”



Positive evaluation: Smith’s (2022) argument that…is significant

Negative evaluation: Jones’ (2022) claim that…is questionable...


Reporting Verbs

When writing a literature review, you will need to refer to sources. In doing so, you will often need to use reporting verbs. There are many reporting verbs and each of them has a slightly different meaning, so it is important to select a reporting verb that suits your needs. 

It is important to note that the choice of a reporting verb shows your attitude towards the research under review. The reporting verb chosen can show the readers whether you are neutral, negative or positive about a specific study. In other words, the reporting verbs you choose should be different depending on how you want to comment on others’ work, whether you agree or disagree with their study, or how you evaluate their ideas.

For instance, can you see the difference between the following reporting verbs?

(i)    Leung and Ho (2021) demonstrate that…

(ii)  Leung and Ho (2021) suggest that…

(iii) Leung and Ho (2021) claim that…

In (i), the writer’s positive attitude to the research is communicated by the choice of “demonstrate”; in (ii), the attitude is neutral, while in (iii), the use of the reporting verb “claim” is often associated with a doubtful attitude towards a source.

The use of reporting verbs will help you describe and report on the literature. You may choose reporting verbs based on your needs:

•          aims: investigates, examines,

•          results: shows, suggests, reveals

•          opinions: states, believes, argues



Wong et al. (2022) investigate

Chan’s (2022) study shows that…

Lee (2022) argues that…

Some websites on reporting verbs that you may find helpful:





Verb Tenses of Reporting Verbs

The tenses used may vary depending on the subject areas/field of study so it is best to check the literature in your field.

Some general guidelines:

(i)    Use the present tense when discussing findings from the literature:

Kim (2022) argues that this model…

Note, however, that the past tense may be used when discussing findings in many science subjects. 


(ii)  Use the past tense when referring to an activity that was completed during a study:  

Smith (2010) used focus groups to…

Wu et al. (2019) found that…



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.