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Using cautious language

In this article you will look at another characteristic of academic writing; cautious language.

When presenting theories or discussing findings from research, cautious language tends to be used. This is sometimes referred to a hedging. In the academic world knowledge tends to be developed through a collaborative process, with academics testing one another’s claims. So one is much more likely to have one’s ideas accepted if they’re presented cautiously.

There are a number of ways in which you can present your ideas in a cautious way, by using

modal verbs

International students may have difficulties adapting to a different culture
This increase might be due to other factors.
hedging verbs
These findings suggest that …
It is claimed that …
Young men tend to drive faster than young women.
frequency adverbs
International students sometimes have difficulties adapting to a new culture.
The symptoms usually disappear after about a week.
modal nouns
There is a tendency for …
The possibility of contamination was discussed.

More tips for writing in an academic style

  • On this course you may have noticed contracted forms are used (eg don’t, can’t, there’s) but in academic writing you must use full forms (eg do not, cannot, there is).
  • Don’t use idiomatic language (eg a bit difficult, lots of problems, mum and dad). Use more formal expressions instead (eg slightly difficult, many problems, parents)
  • Be as precise as possible, and if you’re not sure of the facts – check them. Instead of The earthquake happened a few years ago, write The earthquake happened in 2007.
  • For a similar reason, try to avoid using etc. or and so on. If you can, give a full list.
The Academic Phrasebank provides lists of language that can be used in your writing. This language is organised by the function that it has (eg describing trends, being critical, giving examples), and it’s made clear that most of the language listed is “neutral and generic”, so that you can use it without fear of being accused of plagiarism. However, this language is only intended to provide a framework for the content of your writing. Do not overuse language from the Academic Phrasebank.

Your turn

In this extract below from Text B in Step 3.8, find some examples of cautious language. The article that this extract comes from focuses on the diets of people in the UK, and the impact of what people eat on climate change.
The modelling presented here relied on a survey of food purchase data for input data on the current UK diet. Although our comparison with NDNS food and nutrient intake data (Table 3) suggests that the baseline diet estimates are reasonably valid, it does suggest that current UK fruit and vegetable consumption may have been overestimated. This is likely to be the case, as household wastage of fruit and vegetables is higher than that for other food categories. 36 This may have resulted in some overestimation of the health impact of achieving the dietary scenarios.
B. Scarborough, P., Allender, S., Clarke, D., Wickramasinghe, K., & Rayner, M. (2012). Modelling the health impact of environmentally sustainable dietary scenarios in the UK. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66(6), 710–715.

Post your examples to the comments below.

Once you’ve posted your suggestions in the comment area, have a look at this PDF with our answer.

© British Council
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