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Hedging: Making claims of appropriate strength in Academic Writing

In academic writing, when you talk about the findings of your research, you should be careful and make claims of ‘appropriate strength’. This language, which softens claims, is called hedging.


Purpose of hedging in academic writing

Textbooks tend to deal with facts. However, in an academic paper, you need to explain your findings and interpret them in light of the literature. A claim too strong could make others doubt or attack it. Meanwhile, a claim that is too weak is meaningless. This is because the size of the data source available to you and the limitations inherent in the scope of your study naturally impose restrictions on the nature and ambit of the claims that you can make. In academic writing, hedging is important for expressing the credibility of claims made based on the evidence presented. This article discusses effective hedging through examples from different sections of the paper. But before we dive in, a note…

Note: Naturally, there are differences across disciplines, with some harder sciences being able to make stronger claims as a result of their experiments, and the social sciences often being less able to make claims with certainty. Therefore, to showcase hedging better, this article uses examples from a social science paper (available here).


Hedging in the Introduction section

Hedging can be used when reporting previous work (in the literature review part of the Introduction). In an extract from the paper used for this article, notice the highlights to understand how hedging has been used:

The concept of perceived threat occupies a key role in the study of authoritarianism (Cohrs et al., 2005a, 2005b; Doty et al., 1991; Kossowska et al., 2011; Rickert, 1998; Roccato et al., 2014). One of the central issues in the literature concerns what kinds of threats are involved in authoritarianism (Duckitt, 2013, p. 2). While several studies contend that threats to normative social order activate authoritarian pre-dispositions (Doty et al., 1991; Feldman, 2003; Feldman & Stenner, 1997; Rickert, 1998; Roccato et al., 2014), others suggest that perceived threats to personal health or well-being are more consequential (Asbrock & Fritsche, 2013; Hartman et al., 2021; Hetherington & Suhay, 2011; …


Hedging in the Results section

Hedging can also be used when reporting results. In other extracts from the same article, note the highlights for examples of hedging:

 …There was some support for the conditional effect…

but the conditional effects of primes were generally stronger for Republicans than for Democrats...


Hedging in the Discussion / Conclusion section

Hedging is particularly important when asserting what the results signify. Thus, it can be used in the Discussion or Conclusion section (or both, where the two sections are separate) when drawing the broader implications of your results.

Notice the use of hedging in the Discussion section from the same article:


In addition, no moderating effect of threat primes on anti-immigration attitudes in the AZ-FL-TX sample was observed. There is some evidence from previous studies showing that public opinion on immigration or refugees remained unchanged in the aftermath of some terror attacks, suggesting that there may be limits to the influence of traumatic events, especially concerning attitudes that are already relatively stabilized (Silva, 2018; Van Asscheh & Dierck, 2019). In addition, high salience of threats observed among respondents in the sample may also be the reason for the lack of empirical support for the moderating effect of threat on anti-immigration attitudes (but also see Hartman et al., 2021).

Hedging in the Conclusion section can be seen below:

The results contribute to the literature that underlines the importance of the authoritarian dynamic and threat perceptions in predicting support for extraordinary policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. They also present empirical evidence that both high and low authoritarians may be likely to support tough law and order policies and to some extent harsh punishments toward noncompliers depending on what types of threat are most salient to them.


Words and phrases to help you use hedging

As you can see, hedging typically employs certain words and phrases. Here is a list, though not exhaustive.

Type of word or phrase used for hedging

Examples of words or phrases used for hedging


chance, likelihood, possibility, probability

Note: Is also often used with ‘strong, good, some, slight...’

·         Usage: (There is a good) chance...


appear, seem, tend


likely, unlikely, probable, possible…


very, quite, rather, highly

Adverb of frequency

usually, generally, as a rule, in the majority of cases


could, may, might, must


based on the (limited) data available, according to the interviewees, within this period


It is a fact (that)…, It is certain (that)…, It is definite (that)…


except for, with the exception of, apart from



Hedging may be employed in different sections of an article. The main issue is how certain one can be of the claim being made. Try to strike a balance without making the claim too bold (especially if not strongly substantiated) or too unconvincing!


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