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Tentative statements

Research in Science is cumulative which means that research conducted today may depend to a large extent on the work of numerous other researchers over a long period. The results of experiments are rarely conclusive and findings may later be shown to be inaccurate or based on false assumptions. For these reasons it is a good idea to be fairly tentative in your writing in the results and discussion sections.

Make tentative statements rather than direct, categorical ones. For example, rather than writing 'This experiment proves…' it is preferable to use expressions such as:

  • tends to…
  • appears to…
  • suggests that…
  • would seem to…

In order to express tentative statements you can use limiting words, modal verbs, and softening or hedging verbs.

Limiting words

Examples of limiting words

  • possible or possibly
  • probable or probably
  • likely.

Limiting words in sentences

  • It is possible that the use of a different model…
  • It is likely that vinculin localises in low amounts at the basement membrane…

Modal verbs

These change the strength of the main verb and indicate that there is room for doubt.

Examples of modal verbs

  • may or may be
  • might, might be or might have been
  • could be
  • could have been
  • would
  • would have been.

Modal verbs in a sentence

  • The data appear to support the hypothesis, but further sampling would need to be undertaken to increase the reliability of the final result.

Note that this sentence also includes the softener 'appear'.

'Softening' or 'hedging' verbs

Examples of softening or hedging verbs

These include verbs such as:

  • appears
  • suggests
  • indicates.

Softening or hedging verbs in sentences

The results shown in Figure 1 suggest that stratified sampling by gender…

The evidence seems to indicate that the flow rate of NaOH does not significantly affect…

This result appears to demonstrate that the presence of flower galls at permanently-flooded sites can be accounted for by…

The section on Tenses in Science also gives you examples of how the choice of verb tenses in scientific writing can convey particular academic meanings.

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