Express uncertainty in writing

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In academic communication, writers rarely express their claims with absolute certainty. In order to indicate that an issue has more than one answer or interpretation, you need to use cautious or tentative language. We call this ‘expressing uncertainty’.

When you express uncertainty through cautious or tentative language, you as a writer demonstrate that you are aware of the range of possible interpretations. You also demonstrate your critical thinking skills by recognising that information is debatable and open to further questioning.

Cautious language used to ‘soften’ your claims is known as hedging.  You can employ hedging to indicate the level of certainty you want to express, and make your statements sound well-reasoned. Common examples of hedging are:

  • modal verbs, such as might, may, could
  • adverbs of probability, such as perhaps, possibly, likely, unlikely.