IOE Writing Centre


Cautious Language and Hedging

Girl with laptop

Hedging is a type of language use which 'protects' your claims.

Using language with a suitable amount of caution can protect your claims from being easily dismissed. It also helps to indicate the level of certainty we have in relation to the evidence or support.

Compare the following two short texts, (A) and (B). You will notice that although the two texts are, in essence, saying the same thing, (B) has a significant amount of extra language around the claim. A large amount of this language is performing the function of 'hedging'.

Text comparison

Compare the following two short texts, (A) and (B). How many differences do you see in the second text? What is the function/effect/purpose of each difference?

You will probably notice that (B) is more 'academic', but it is important to understand why.

(A) Extensive reading helps students to improve their vocabulary. 

(B) Research conducted by Yen (2005) appears to indicate that, for a significant proportion of students, extensive reading may contribute to an improvement in their active vocabulary. Yen's (2005) study involved learners aged 15-16 in the UK, although it may be applicable to other groups. However, the study involved an opt-in sample, which means that the sample students may have been more 'keen', or more involved in reading already. It would be useful to see whether the findings differ in a wider sample. 

(Please note that Yen (2005) is a fictional reference used only as an example).

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The table below provides some examples of language to use when making knowledge claims.

Try to find examples of hedging language in your own reading, to add to this table.

Phrases for Hedging

Language Function with Example Phrases

1)   Quantifiers

a fraction
a minority/majority of
a proportion of
to some extent

2)    Appearance

appears to
has the appearance of
is similar to
shares characteristics with
appears to be in line with

3)    Possibility

has the possibility of
has the potential to
is able to

4)    Frequency

tends to
has a tendency to

5)   Comparatively

in a simpler way than ...
more simply than …
When compared to …

6)    Context

In the context of …
…in certain situations…
Within some households…

7)    Evidence

Based on …
As indicated by …
According to …

8)    Description in language

can be described as
could be considered to be
is sometimes labelled
can be equated to
the term is often used to mean
the term is often used to refer to
this may indicate that …
this may suggest that …

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