Using Hedging in Writing: Mini-lesson

Read the following statements:
  • Man will be able to cure cancer by 2025.
  • Computers will replace classroom teachers in the 21st century.
  • It is undeniable that parenting affects children’s performance at school.
  • Use of nuclear power is definitely wrong.
  • Life will end as a result of global warming.
All of these statements are ‘unhedged’ sentences, meaning that they are too certain. Words such as will, undeniable, is, and definitely make the writing too absolute. Readers may easily challenge these statements because there may be many alternative points of view. In academic writing, writers need to discuss points which are not usually so definite, and which are often debatable. Therefore, careful, uncertain language needs to be used, such as in the following ‘hedged’ sentences.
  • Man may be able to cure cancer by 2025.
  • It appears that computers may replace classroom teachers in the 21st century.
  • It seems that parenting may affect children’s performance at school.
  • Use of nuclear power may be wrong in some /situations.
  • There is growing evidence that life may end as a result of global warming.
These sentences are more cautious, more academic and less likely to be challenged by readers with different opinions. It is important, when you are not 100% certain of a point you are making, to use hedging in your academic writing as well.

Some of the language used for hedging includes:

Modal verbs

may / may not
might / might not



seem(s) to
appear(s) to
tend(s) to







Now complete the following exercise on hedging in academic writing.

Complete the following article by selecting the most grammatical answer from the choices in each of the numbered drop down boxes below.

Alcohol Use among College Students

Students on (1 ▼ ) college campuses use alcohol to signify their emerging adulthood, to enhance social gatherings, and to cope with stress. As studies have revealed the extent of excessive or problem drinking, however, college administrators have become increasingly concerned about understanding and controlling alcohol use and abuse. In states that have raised the drinking age to 21, college administrators must also consider relevant legal issues. Physical injury and loss of life among students provide additional compelling reasons to address the problem of excessive drinking (Shore and Rivers, 1985). College personnel need to understand the causes and consequences of problem drinking and tailor educational and counseling programs to the students' needs.


Negative Consequences. One way to identify problem drinking is in terms of its negative consequences. At colleges these problems include a reduction in classroom performance, lowered grades, difficulties in residence hall management, and destruction to property (Shore and Rivers, 1985). Administrators believe that alcohol is involved in damage to residence halls, violent behavior, violation of campus policies, physical injuries, and emotional difficulty. Also attributed to alcohol-caused behavior are 29% of academic failures and 21% of students who do not remain in school (Anderson and Gadaleto, 1985). Engs and Hanson (1985) have also found a significant incidence of hangovers, drinking while driving, and missing class because of hangovers.

Excessive Consumption and Intoxication. Another way of identifying problem drinking is by the amount and frequency of students' alcohol consumption. One study classified students into four groups based on amount and frequency--abusers, users, weekenders, and socials--and identified behavior differences among the groups (Hetherington and Keene, 1985). Meyer (1986) and Johnston, Bachman, and O'Malley (1986) have shown that although most college students confine their drinking to weekends, they (2▼ ) drink heavily on such occasions (five or more drinks in a row). This pattern is increasing among college students at the same time that it is decreasing among their non-college age mates and among high school students (Johnston and others, 1986).

Reasons for Drinking. As K. H. Berkowitz and Perkins (1986) have noted, problem drinkers have distinctive motivational patterns and, therefore, drinking for certain kinds of reasons (3▼ ) itself define problem drinking. (4▼ ) problem drinkers use alcohol to control stress (Beck and Summons, 1985) or to cope with negative affect (Johnston and others, 1986). Studies of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) offenders (5▼ ) that they (6▼ ) drink in isolation and for the purpose of coping with stress. Other studies (7▼ ) college students drink in a more social atmosphere with the intention of getting drunk. This (8▼ ) a more recreational and (9▼ ) experimental approach to alcohol use by the college students (Beck and Summons, 1985). Alcohol educators should be especially sensitive to students who use alcohol as a coping mechanism.


Personality and Gender. Compared to non-problem drinkers, problem drinkers are impulsive, prone to deviant behavior, less oriented toward academic success, more independence-seeking, and
(10▼ ) to drink for escapist reasons (K. H. Berkowitz and Perkins, 1986). With regard to gender differences, information on the increase/decrease in use among college women is conflicting. However, the prevalence of heavy drinking remains much greater for males than females (Johnston et al., 1986). Women also show a greater resistance to drinking than do men, except in dormitory living situations (Shore and Rivers, 1985).

Peer, Family, and Environmental Influences. The greatest influence on college students' drinking is their peers. As Shore and Rivers (1985) point out, variables related to influences prior to college, i.e., family, religion and parental alcohol consumption, do not (11▼ ) be highly related to RPD (resistance to pressure to drink), but variables within the college environment, such as class standing and living unit,
(12▼ ) correlate with RDP. Shore and Rivers (13▼ ) that
(14▼ ) students view college as a "time out" from the "real world," with its own rules and expectations, and look to the college world for guidance and standards. Misperceptions about alcohol use abound, especially among freshmen students. Most students and resident advisors perceive a more liberal norm when a more moderate norm actually exists (A. D. Berkowitz and Perkins, 1986). That is, students have relatively conservative personal attitudes toward drinking, but believe the general attitude to be quite liberal. Misperceptions (15▼ ) increase with increasing size of the social group (friends, housing peers, campus at large) and increasing social distance between the group and the perceiver (Perkins and Berkowitz, 1986).

Explanations for increases in drinking or acceptance of problem drinking include broad based changes in American society--roles of women, alternative life styles, and intergroup relations (Engs and Hanson, 1985). For specific problems, such as the rise in drinking while driving, for example, the causes seem to be complicated. Although studies (16▼ ) that raising the legal drinking age
(17▼ ) to reduced drinking while driving, the legal prohibition against drinking for young adults may make automobiles a "safe" place for them to drink. That is, automobiles may provide a place where under-age students can drink away from school or other authorities. Increased heavy drinking, or drinking rapidly to destroy the evidence, may be a factor in the increase in hangovers and missing class because of hangovers (Engs and Hanson, 1985).


Since (18▼ ) students do not seek out individual counseling, alcohol education coordinators often must rely on other methods of education such as multi-media campaigns, group sessions, and special classes and seminars. Hetherington and Keene (1985) have designed a program based on classifying students by the amount and frequency of their alcohol consumption. The specific methods for counseling each student user group include the following:

Abusers: Address psychological issues; stress the emotional impact of large amounts of alcohol; include a discussion of alcohol use and families (children of alcoholics are more likely to be abusive drinkers).

Weekenders: Address the relationship between alcohol use and social issues. Include students in organizing campus events; see that such events are nonalcoholic.

Users: Address the effects of alcohol use over time and the physiological effects of alcohol; teach bartending for nonalcoholic drinks.

Socials: Address students' feelings regarding peer expectations; include a section on assertion skills and information on the role of advertising in creating drinking expectations; discuss social pressure.

Descriptions of effective alcohol policies indicate that prohibiting students from drinking on campus is
(19▼ ) not effective, and that providing guidelines on proper ways of handling drinking situations can help those who choose to drink. Administrators and alcohol education coordinators would be wise to take campus size/organization, student characteristics, and peer influences into account when planning alcohol education programs (Shore and Rivers, 1985).

Typical responses to the alcohol problem by school officials include the following: (1) seeking help from off-campus drug treatment facilities, residence hall staff, and alcohol education coordinators; (2) providing group counseling for students who are problem drinkers; (3) making sanctions more stringent for behavioral infractions that involve alcohol; (4) specifying the conditions under which group activities may involve alcohol; and (5) making advertising standards more stringent (e.g., alcohol cannot be advertised as the primary focus of an event, and off-campus establishments may not run "happy hour" advertisements) (Anderson and Gadaleto, 1985).

Some reports indicate that administrative attention to college students' drinking has resulted in stronger policies concerning student alcohol consumption on campus, increased reporting of alcohol-related problems by campus police or counseling and student health services, and increased alcohol education programming. This heightened emphasis on alcohol-related issues (20▼ ) to reported increases in problem drinking, but the fact remains that the problems have always been there and still exist. It is therefore important for all college personnel to address these problems.


Source: ERIC Identifier: ED291014 Publication Date: 1987-07-00 Author: Bolton-Brownlee, Ann ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI. http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED291014.pdf

Copyright information: http://www.ericdigests.org/about.html

Copyright© 2012-2013 UGC ICOSA Project, Hong Kong. All rights reserved.