How to be a critical reader
How to be a critical reader

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How to be a critical reader

1.5 Hedging

The use of hedging [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] helps writers to avoid expressing opinions as facts and to speculate or express caution in the statements they make. It also signals to the reader that the writer is expressing an opinion. When writers ‘hedge’, they use the following kinds of words and any others which create distance between the writer and the opinion and show that the writer knows there may be people who have other opinions:

  • may, could, can, seem, appear
  • probably, possibly, clearly, undoubtedly
  • likely, probable, possible
  • likelihood, possibility, probability
  • quite, sometimes.

For example: ‘It is likely/probable/possible that we will all become literate in new ways with advances in technology.’

The next activity helps you to think about how the use of hedging might change the meaning of sentences in Text 3.

Activity 5

Question 1

Read the following three pairs of sentences. The first sentence in each pair comes directly from Text 3. The second sentence is the same as the first except that it contains hedging. In each case, copy and paste the hedge word(s) into the box and make a note about how hedging changes the meaning of the original sentence.

  1. Today’s students cannot read critically.
  2. It seems that today’s students cannot read critically.
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Answer

The hedge words are highlighted in bold below.

  1. Today’s students cannot read critically.
  2. It seems that today’s students cannot read critically.

Question 2

  1. Earlier students took responsibility for their mistakes.
  2. Earlier students appear to have taken responsibility for their mistakes.
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Answer

The hedge words are highlighted in bold below.

  1. Earlier students took responsibility for their mistakes.
  2. Earlier students appear to have taken responsibility for their mistakes.

Question 3

  1. Past students thought of education as a privilege; current students view it as an entitlement.
  2. Past students probably thought of education as a privilege; current students undoubtedly view it as an entitlement.
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Answer

The hedge words are highlighted in bold below.

  1. Past students thought of education as a privilege; current students view it as an entitlement.
  2. Past students probably thought of education as a privilege; current students undoubtedly view it as an entitlement.

In all cases, the hedge words make the opinion more cautious. However, hedges vary in terms of the amount of caution they express. Hedges such as seems and appear to are more cautious than probably. Yet again, probably is more cautious than undoubtedly. Words such as undoubtedly signal to the reader that the writer is quite sure of their opinion – but it is still opinion and not fact.

Comment

Hedging is an acceptable way for academic writers to express opinions. Through the language of hedging, writers (a) signal to the reader that they are expressing opinions; (b) avoid sweeping generalisations by expressing caution to varying degrees; and (c) recognise other people’s opinions.

L185_1

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