Cautious language, Tentative language, Hedging language

'Cautious' 'tentative' and 'hedging' all mean the same and refer to an important feature of academic English. Read on!

Tentative language is a very important feature of academic writing which overseas students often find difficult. Tentative means cautious, or careful. Let me give you an example of language which is NOT tentative:

The Queen of England is very popular and is loved and respected by her subjects.

This sentence is too factual. It sounds like every single of her subjects loves and respects her. Probably there are some people who don’t love and respect her and she might not be popular with everyone. A better sentence would be one using tentative language, for example:

The Queen of England appears to be very popular and seems to be loved and respected by many of her subjects.

This is much better academic style. You are being cautious, you are ‘hedging’. You often see this type of language in conclusions because when you make conclusions you are putting forward ideas that are drawn from facts, from evidence. These ideas could be wrong! They are not facts! So you need to be careful when you propose them.

Here are some more examples of tentative, or cautious, or hedging language:

From a report on Culture at Work from the British Council:

While employers universally value intercultural skills, they do not often assess these skills in the application or interview process. This lack of skills assessment in the recruitment process may indicate that HR recruitment processes and staff are not always aligned with the needs of the teams that interact internationally. This also implies that employers could benefit from improving their ability to identify and assess intercultural skills in prospective employees. Employers also generally feel that education systems in their countries could do more to provide students with intercultural skills. To mitigate the risk of having a workforce that is unprepared for the global work environment, employers often provide training for their employees to develop intercultural skills. This research suggests that there is significant opportunity for employers, policy makers and education providers to work together to strengthen the development of intercultural skills to meet the needs of an increasingly global workforce.

(Available at https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/culture-at-work-report-v2.pdf)

From an academic article about international students' concerns and challenges:

The significant and positive association between English proficiency and academic progress may indicate that a student's English ability affects her/his academic progress: students with better English language ability tend to have better academic performance. The significant associations between English language ability and homesickness and mixing with UK students also reflect the influence of English proficiency on these two factors, i.e. poor English language tends to prevent students from becoming integrated into their new environment. It is worth pointing out that although the associations between some of the problems are statistically significant and positive, one must not conclude that a change in one factor is entirely caused by a change in another. The interactions amongst the problems are, in fact, much more complicated.

(Li, Rose Yanhong and Kaye, Mike(1998)'Understanding Overseas Students' Concerns and Problems',Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management,20:1,41 — 5)

The most common words for being tentative, cautious and for hedging are:

may

could

appear

seem

imply

indicate

tend

suggest

often

generally

possibly/probably

Of course now I have to show you a link which gives you examples of hedging language and an exercise. Here’s the link to Andy Gillett’s exercise at his fantastic site at the University of Hertfordshire. Choose the HEDGING link at the top of the page you come to. Read his introduction to hedging , his language examples and do the exercise at the bottom. Finally, make sure you try to use this feature in your writing.

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