As you finesse your skill at writing academic research papers, your respect for tentative language is bound to grow -- or at least it should. Tentative language also is known as cautious language or hedging, and it's up to you to choose the words that correspond with the evidence or supporting facts you have available so that your assertions remain sound and your credibility remains intact.
Visualize the Difference
As with most issues with the English language, examples can help clarify what tentative language is. Consider this declarative sentence: “She died of cardiac arrest.” This is an absolute statement, with no shading of uncertainty. If you are less than certain, tentative language would soften the assertion: “She probably died of cardiac arrest.” If your evidence is inconclusive, you could hedge even more by saying, “She might have died of cardiac arrest.”
Tentative Language Can Be Fun
Students sometimes worry that couching their language will make them look weak. In fact, tentative language should make you appear cautious and thoughtful. So choose tentative language carefully and mull your many options. For example, consider the frequency adverbs: “always,” “usually,” “often,” “sometimes” and “seldom.” Have fun with probability adverbs: “definitely,” “probably” and “possibly.” And if you're ever in doubt about a claim or assertion in a paper, err on the side of understating rather than overstating. For example, it would be better to say, “The research appears to support the point that ... ” instead of “The research clearly supports the point that ... "
- Purdue University Online Writing Lab: Tips for Writing in North American Colleges: Reasonability
- Newcastle University: Writing Development Center: Hedging
- The New St. Martin’s Handbook; Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors; 1999.
- The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers; Maxine Hairston and John Ruszkiewicz; 1991.
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