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Learning Outcomes

By the end of this package you should be able to:

  • understand what hedging is and why it is important
  • identify different methods for hedging
  • apply a number of hedging techniques to your academic writing

Introduction to Independent Learning

Independent learning gives you more choice about what, when and how fast to study. It also prepares you to learn after you complete full time education.

In order to study independently you need to be able to set your own aims, choose how you want to study and reflect on the usefulness of studying that you do and on your overall progress.

Since you have chosen to study the CRITIQUING HEDGING TECHNIQUES package, we can assume that you want to learn more about the subtleties of academic writing and how to convey your research in a

  • measured
  • sometimes tentative
  • and more objective manner

The online activities in this package are designed to help you develop an appreciation of the nuance of scholarly writing so that you are able to write with the same precision, balance and tact and approach writing with a sense of expectation and enjoyment rather than an arduous task you do simply in order to reach an end.

Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 Task 4 Task 5 Task 6 Rating Form

What is hedging?

Before we explore strategies for hedging in our academic work, we need to establish exactly what we mean by this term.

Task 1

Unscramble the letters and type them in the gaps to create words which provide a definition of the word ‘hedging’. The first letter has been given in each case to help you.

What is hedging?

It is often believed that academic writing, is factual, there simply to convey facts and information. However an important feature of academic writing is the concept of cautious or tentative language, often called "hedging" or "vague language".
Hedging is crucial in academic discourse, and hedge words account for approximately 1 word in every 100 in academic articles.
Compare these two sentences:

  • Clearly this increase in the crime rate was the result of the proliferation and availability of illegal hand guns and automatic weapons.
  • This apparent increase in the crime rate may have been caused by the alleged proliferation and availability of illegal hand guns and automatic weapons.

The first sentence indicates a high level of certainty; indeed, the claim, or assertion, is presented as a fact. The second sentence, on the other hand, is more tentative. It does this in three places:

1. It questions the certainty of the reported data by using the word apparent. Crime rates are notoriously easy to manipulate and the fact that an increase is supported with statistics does not necessarily mean that an increase actually took place.

2. The second point opens up the relationship between the number of firearms available the supposed increase in the crime rate. Sentence 1 is adamant that they are directly related. Sentence 2 suggests that allows for some flexibility in the claim.

3. Again the second sentence ‘hedges’ on the side of tentativeness by cautioning the reader that the number of weapons and their ease of access is at worst open to doubt or at best question.

As the example above illustrates, the use of hedging enables the writer to make claims that are proportionate to the evidence available at the time of writing. In other words, hedging language helps to make statements as accurate as possible. Since there is a wide range of hedging words and phrases, it is important to choose one that reflects the strength of the supporting evidence. The use of the word ‘probably’ in the sentence below indicates that the evidence is fairly strong. In the second sentence, the more tentative word ‘could’ was selected, indicating that the evidence is weak.

  • The fire was probably caused by a fault in the engine temperature gauge.
  • The fire could have been caused by a fault in the engine temperature gauge.

Paying due attention to accuracy helps to avoid, or at least reduce, criticism of your work.
Hedging is also used to mitigate criticism of other authors’ work, as in the examples below:

  • Johnson (2007) appears to ignore the adverse psychological side-effects of this approach.
  • The risks of the new vaccine may have been overstated.
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