How to use academic writing style

Hedging your bets

when you've finished this page you will be able to...


In a piece of academic writing, you will often make statements or draw conclusions based on the evidence you are using to support your writing. However, despite the fact that this evidence may be strong, when you are writing in an academic style you have to use tentative language instead of assertive language.

Assertive language is a definite statement. An example of this would be:

All school children need more exercise

Tentative language is more subtle, and implies facts or conclusions whilst allowing room for discussion or error - this is known as 'hedging your bets'. An example of this would be:

It seems that all school children need more exercise

Can you see the difference in these two sentences? It is very difficult in any study to prove a theory without any doubt, in most cases research cannot provide absolute proof, it can only suggest conclusions from the evidence collected.

Activity: Distinguishing between assertive and tentative language - 10 minutes

1. Read the sentences in the table below

2. Decide whether the language in this sentence is tentative or assertive and copy the tentative sentences into your notes.

A cure for MRSA seems to be possible after new findings
Insects will be the first victims of climate change
It may be easier to give up smoking if you use nicotine patches
Excessive use of a mobile phone during pregnancy may lead to foetal damage
Average IQ scores do not differ between pupils from different regions
This appears to be the most important factor
This was probably caused by the earlier landslide
How did you do?

Once you have finished, you may check your answers below - the tentative sentences are highlighted. If you didn't get all of these correct, you may want to review the definitions and examples of assertive and tentative language above.

Below are some useful words and phrases for when you are hedging your bets:

Activity: Using tentative language - 10 minutes

1. In your notes, rewrite the following assertive sentences using tentative language

The evidence shows that all allergy sufferers benefit from anti-histamine medication

Women only shop between 9am and 3pm, whereas men only shop between 2 and 5pm

Office workers always suffer from more back problems than construction workers

Children who miss more than two weeks of school a year will not achieve their expected grades in an exam

Car passengers who do not wear seatbelts will suffer more serious injuries than passengers who do wear their seatbelts.

How did you do?

When you have finished, you can check your answers below. The answers shown below are not the only correct answers - providing you have managed to use tentative instead of assertive language, you have succeeded in this task.

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