‘Hedging’ refers to the use of certain words or phrases to indicate that the content being presented should be interpreted as opinion, suggestion, or conjecture rather than fact. A very simple example is the difference between “the sky is blue” and the hedged phrases “the sky looks blue,” “the sky seems blue,” “the sky may be blue,” or “it could be that the sky is blue.” In the first example, the sky’s color is presented as a fact, whereas in the other phrases, the sky’s color is presented as speculated or debatable. Hedging terms also deflect responsibility away from the author. If a term of certainty is used, the author is indicating confidence in the veracity of the statement.
With science, it is often impossible to categorically prove something, so these terms are common, but different fields of study have different conventions regarding the use of hedging terms. Terms of certainty are frequently used when discussing well accepted literature results, and hedging terms are used when analyzing new data. However, when in doubt, you can consult publisher’s guidelines, other papers in your field, and colleagues or mentors.
For further information on how you should balance the use of hedge terms, read our article Avoiding Multiple Hedge Terms.
Here are some examples of hedging terms and terms that imply certainty:
|prove||suggest, imply, indicate|
|is/are||seem to be, appear to be, may be, could be, might be, tend to be|
|definite, clear, certain||possible, probable, putative|
|always||often, sometimes, usually, generally|
|"A results from B"||"We propose that A results from B"|
This is only a short list of hedge terms, but we hope that it gives you an idea of the difference between a statement of fact and a hypothesis. If you have questions about any particular terms used in your field, please e-mail us.