Aim: This page will help you to improve your academic essay writing style by using hedging.
When you discuss ideas or data in your written assignments, you should use cautious rather than assertive language. This means that you should avoid expressions such as:
|clearly||obviously||without a doubt||certainly|
|undoubtedly||definitely||there is no doubt that||absolutely|
You should also take care when using words like always, never, every and all.
The reason for this is because academic writing usually reports on research, and in your research area there may be information that you have not found, exceptions to the rules that you find, and the situation may change over time. Therefore you need to use cautious language to avoid the possibility of people saying that you are wrong. BE CAREFUL: in the academic world teachers are looking for their students' mistakes, and researchers are looking for each others' mistakes. Criticizing mistakes and correcting them is part of scientific method, and is therefore common, and is regarded by researchers as a good thing to do.
|Let’s now talk about the data in Figure 1. First and foremost, it’s crystal clear that students don’t have many opportunities to speak English outside the classroom. You can tell this because all the means are under 3.00. Clearly, PolyU students don’t have any need to speak to parents, etc. in English. This is undoubtedly because their family members are Cantonese speakers. Obviously, there’s no point in speaking English when everyone can speak Cantonese. As you can see, PolyU students never speak to their grandparents in English. This is not surprising because, as we all know, old people in Hong Kong can’t speak English. That’s because the education system wasn’t very good in the past. You can see, though, that there are a few situations (overseas holidays and so on) where students do get a golden opportunity to use their English, even though this is not really very often. In a nutshell, then, the data in Figure 1 prove that PolyU students don’t speak English much outside the classroom.||The first section of the questionnaire asked the
subjects to indicate on a six-point scale how often they speak in
English in a range of non-academic situations. On the evidence of the
findings presented in Figure 1,
it would appear that tertiary students in Hong Kong generally
have little need to speak in English outside the classroom.
The evidence suggests that undergraduates rarely communicate with their parents or grandparents in English. This finding is perhaps not surprising as census data indicate that the overwhelming majority of people in Hong Kong speak Cantonese (Cheung et al., 2003). In the intimate family domain, young people understandably have little need or desire to speak English, apart from special circumstances such as preparing for English language examinations.
The results indicate
that the situation in which tertiary students use English least is in
interactions with their grandparents. When interpreting this finding, it
is worth noting that recent
surveys have revealed that English is less widely known among
Hong Kong people in their sixties and seventies than those in the 40-60
and 20-40 age groups (Chan, 2004). This
largely stems from the
fact that the provision of English-medium secondary education was
limited in the 1940s and 1950s (Li, 2000). The majority of citizens in
the 60-70 age group are likely
to have received only a Chinese-medium primary education (So, 1992).
The following ‘hedging’ verbs are often used in academic writing:
The verbs appear and seem are used when a writer wishes to ‘distance’ himself / herself from the findings (and therefore avoid making a strong claim).
On the evidence of the findings presented in Figure 1, it would appear that tertiary students in Hong Kong generally have little need to speak in English outside the classroom.
Note that the writer also ‘protects’ himself / herself by using the phrase on the evidence of. These expressions are used in a similar way: according to, on the basis of, based on.
2. Modal verbs
Another way of appearing ‘confidently uncertain’ is to use modal verbs such as may, might, could and can.
The following adverbs are often used when a writer wishes to express caution.
Another technique is to use an adjective.
The following nouns are often used in academic writing:
There are several ways in which you can qualify a generalisation.
(i) You can use the verb tend or the noun (have/be a) tendency (to) .
While the data in Figure 1 suggest that tertiary students tend not to speak English very frequently outside class, there are apparently several situations where spoken English has some degree of importance in the subjects’ lives.
(ii) You can use an adverb such as:
|generally||largely||primarily||for the most part|
|predominantly||mainly||usually||to a great extent|
(iii) You can use a qualifying expression such as most or the majority of.
(iv) You can identify exceptions by using expressions such as apart from, except for or with the exception of.
Study the following examples and decide whether they correctly hedged or not:
Last updated: Monday, 27 August 2012
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