What is Hedging in Academic Writing?  

by Paperpal
hedging in academic writing

In academic writing, researchers and scholars need to consider the tonality and sweep of their statements and claims. They need to ask themselves if they are being too aggressive in trying to prove a point or too weak. If you’ve ever struggled to ensure your academic writing sounds confident yet acknowledges the inherent complexities of research, Hedging is a technique that can help you achieve just that.  

Hedging is a linguistic strategy that helps soften the claims and express the degree of uncertainty or certainty that an author wants to convey based on their research and available evidence. In this blog post, we’ll explore what hedging is and why it’s important in academic writing. We’ll also provide practical tips on how to use hedging effectively, including avoiding common mistakes and recognizing the role of context.   

Table of Contents

What is the importance of hedging in academic writing?

The element or degree of uncertainty in academic knowledge and science cannot be overlooked. Hence, making absolute claims in educational and research writing can run counter to the traditional understandings of science as tentative. By employing hedging, academic writers and researchers acknowledge the possibilities for alternative perspectives and interpretations. In doing so, researchers and scholars accept the fact that their statements are open to discussions and debates. Hedging also lends credibility to their claims.  

Consider the following statements:  

‘Eating more than four eggs a day causes heart disease’ or  

‘People who rise early remain alert throughout the day.’  

These statements sow seeds of doubt or lead to many questions among readers. However, they can be made more flexible and open to discussion by adding words like ‘probably’ and ‘could.’  

Let’s review the modified sentences again:  

‘Eating more than four eggs a day could cause heart disease’ or  

‘People who rise early probably remain alert throughout the day.’ 1        

How to use hedging in academic writing?

While hedging in academic writing is inevitable, it should not be overused. Researchers must know how to hedge and develop this skill to deliver credible research. The writer can utilize specific hedging devices to make a well-reasoned statement.   

These include the use of grammatical tools like:   

  • Verbs such as suggest, tend to seem to indicate. For example, ‘Earlier studies indicate…’  
  • Modal auxiliaries such as may, might, can, and could. For example, ‘Industries can make use of …’  
  • Adjectives such as much, many, some, perhaps. For example, ‘within some micro-credit groups.’  
  • Adverbs such as probably, likely, often, seldom, sometimes.  
  • ‘That’ clauses: for example, ‘It is evident that…’  
  • Distance – it is helpful to distance oneself from the claims made. For example, you present it in the following ways: ‘Based on the preliminary study…’, ‘On the limited data available…’.  

A combination of such devices may be used to balance the strength of your claims. For example, in double hedging, the statement can be: ‘It seems almost certain that…’.  

However, overuse of hedging can dilute the impact of your arguments. Ideally, hedging should enhance clarity and foster a space for discussion, not create unnecessary ambiguity. 

Edgar Allan Poe, the renowned American writer, encapsulated the essence of doubt with his insightful words: ‘The believer is happy, the doubter is wise.’ This sentiment aptly captures the advantages of employing hedging in academic writing. While robust evidence and data may be the basis of an argument, the practice of hedging ensures that ideas are presented not as overconfident assertions but as credible and considerate viewpoints. Through cautious language, academic writers create an atmosphere of respect and openness. This approach not only acknowledges varied perspectives but also signals to readers that the author is receptive to counterthoughts and alternative viewpoints. It promotes a more prosperous and more inclusive scholarly discourse. Here are some tips for the effective use of hedging in academic writing.   

Tips to leverage hedging in academic writing

Hedging in academic writing isn’t just about softening claims; it’s about strategically conveying the strength of your evidence and fostering a nuanced discussion. Here are some key tips to help you leverage hedging effectively: 

Understand context and appropriate usage

Employing hedging solely for the sake of it can disrupt the flow and result in counterproductive outcomes, potentially inviting unnecessary critique and doubts regarding the credibility of the work.2 The very purpose of hedging is to balance the tone of your claims such that it does not appear overconfident or too weak, so you need to be conscious of the context and hedge appropriately. So, how do you use a cautious tone through hedging? To express a balanced tone in the claims, you need to use a mix of hedging devices to convey low to high certainty about your claims. For example, for low certainty, words used can be ‘may, could, might’; for medium certainty, words such as ‘likely, appears to, generally’; and high certainty words such as ‘must, should, undoubtedly.’ It all depends on the evidence you have at hand.  

Use precise and accurate language

The use of precise and accurate language is critical, particularly the use of the right strength of the hedging device based on the evidence you have. Be careful that the claims are not presented as too weak such that they defeat your main argument and idea. It is important to remember that hedging requires refined linguistic skills. For instance, when employing hedging words such as ‘possibly’ and ‘probably,’ it is crucial to understand their subtle distinctions. ‘Possibly’ should be reserved for situations where an outcome is within the realm of feasibility – ‘The weather data shows that it will likely rain tomorrow.’ On the other hand, ‘probably’ indicates a higher likelihood, albeit without absolute certainty – ‘The latest weather data shows it will probably rain next week.’   

Provide supporting evidence and justification

When you provide supporting evidence and justification, you will be able to express the degree of certainty more clearly and also recognize what is less specific. Be careful not to generalize or make categorical statements without any supporting evidence. Neglecting the responsibility to substantiate statements with information dilutes their impact. Embracing data not only imparts accuracy and precision to claims but also bolsters their credibility. Further, the use of hedging in academic writing helps communicate the claim clearly based on evidence at the time of doing research and writing. It acknowledges that situations can change, and discoveries may be made at a later date.   

Seek feedback and peer review

It is always recommended to have your work read thoroughly by a third person or a colleague/faculty member. Outside feedback and a peer review process can highlight specific areas in your work that may require a certain degree of improvement or refinement. By actively seeking feedback, a distinct message is conveyed – the willingness to expose ideas to the crucible of critical assessment. This proactive approach not only signals a receptivity to constructive insights but also exemplifies scholarly integrity that places value on the collective pursuit of knowledge. In embracing this feedback loop, the practice of hedging not only upholds the ethos of academic rigour but also creates an ecosystem of continuous improvement and growth.  

Hedging is a linguistic tool that reflects a willingness to embrace diverse perspectives in the pursuit of knowledge. As academicians navigate their respective fields, hedging emerges as an ally, facilitating a nuanced discourse that pushes the boundaries of scholarship forward.  


  1. IELTS Task 2 essays: formal writing (hedging) – https://ieltsetc.com/2020/12/hedging-in-academic-writing/  
  1. Hedging in academic writing: Some theoretical problems, Peter Crompton (1997) – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S088949069700007  

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