Hedging, sometimes known as vague or cautious language, is an important feature of academic writing.
Whether you are writing up the results or implications of research, or simply expressing an opinion, it is important not to be too dogmatic. In general, unless you have extremely strong evidence, you should avoid strong claims. And, as a reader, you should be very suspicious of strong claims. If you read “these results prove that …” or “this enquiry has established that …” you should be very wary. Look at the evidence. Ask yourself if there are any other reports of a similar nature. Is is published by a reputable source? Are there any reputable studies which contradict this claim?
An important feature of academic enquiry is the willingness to change an opinion or a theory when new evidence come to light. So when we state something in writing we know that there is a possibility that we may be mistaken, or that evidence for our beliefs is not particularly strong, or that we may have misinterpreted the results of a survey or an experiment.
But there is another reason for using cautious language in your writing (and indeed in your speech). If you want others to accept, or even consider your ideas, you need to present them carefully. Even small children quickly learn that to get what they want they need to moderate their language (and most become quite adept at this).
For these reasons academics use cautious language when they offer claims, opinions, predictions or interpretations of evidence. They do this in various ways and hedging is one of the most important.
All the examples above and those on the following pages were taken from authentic texts. You can see the original texts by consulting the bibliography on the credits page.
Or go to the exercise page to practice using hedging devices.