Style - use hedging

Malc Prentice

When should I qualify?

Sometimes you need to soften what you say. Usually:

Imagine you need to write a summary-response

Qualify uncertain facts ("Despite the lack of evidence, it seems likely that")

Qualify weak citations ("Based on Smith (1999), it seems that X, however"

Qualify when no evidence is available

How to qualify

Absolute phrase qualified version
X will happen X may/might/could/could
X possibly/may well happen
is may be / might be / is probably
was may have been / might have been / was probably
every x
all x
most x / many x /some x
a large proportion of x
a significant number of x
the majority of x
no x
a few x / not much x / not many x
a small proportion of x
a minority of x
X always happens X often, usually, frequently, regularly, repeatedly, sometimes happens
X never happens X seldom, occasionally happens
X happens only rarely
happens relatively seldom
definitely go probably, possibly go
most likely go
almost certainly go
tend to go
X is/ causes Y it appears/seems/is probable that X tends to cause Y
X did not happen It is unlikely / doubtful / improbable that x is possible
X, therefore Y X suggestsY
X, which suggests Y
X, which would seem to suggest that Y
is effective is effective to some extent, / is somewhat effective
it is true It is possible that X is true
it is always true It is generally true
In every case Generally,
X means Y is Z X suggests Y is Z / X indicates that Y is probably Z
very relatively / fairly / somewhat / quite
X leads to Y it tends to be the case that X leads to Y

How NOT to qualify

Avoid Weasel Words

Weasel words means qualifying evidence to hide the fact it is missing.

Question Honest answer Weasel words
Who said that? I don't know Some people say
What is the evidence? There isn't any // I didn't look A growing body of evidence says that
"Is the evidence strong? I'm not sure It is obvious that
Does anyone disagree I didn't look Critics claim that

Always yourself these questions about your research and results. It is better to say no evidence was found than hide the fact you didn't find any. Here are some more questions to ask when you read these phrases in your research:

If you read... Ask...
"A growing body of evidence" By who?
"It has been claimed that..." By who?
"It has been noted that..." By who?
"Many people" How many people? Who are they?
"Critics claim..." Who claims?
"Clearly/Obviously/Evidently" It's not clear or obvious or evident.
Can you explain why you think it is?
"There is evidence that..." What evidence?
"There is strong evidence that..." Can you explain WHY it is strong

Avoid qualifying numbers

If you know the exact number, give it.

If you do not know it, find out.

If you read... Ask...
"Over 75%" How far over? 76? 99?
"Very few" How few? 1? 2? 77?
"The vast majority..." Is this 77% or 99%?

"A majority" means "I don't know how much, because it is impossible to tell, but based on my research so far, most say X" NOT "I don't know how much, because I don't have time to research"

Avoid vagueness words

Basically, ... Essentially, ....

(OK for summaries, but too vague for qualifications)

Avoid slang

"Kind of big", "Pretty big", "Really big" and "Sort of big "

These are too informal for academic essays

"Rather" is quite an old word, when used for qualifier.

Avoid repetition

Don't repeat qualifiers (" a lot...a lot... alot... very...very...very")

Look at the list above - try some new ones.

If you need to know how to use them in a sentence, look them up: (link)

Avoid qualifying too often

Try not to use too many qualifiers

If you are using a lot, it is a sign you need to do more research

Don't qualify your conclusion or final comment

You spent an essay building up to this sentence. You've spent weeks researching it. Why are you still unsure? Be specific about why. Don't just qualify for no reason.