Writing Data Commentary
Which opening statement do you prefer?
- Data commentary with strong claims are attractive to readers.
- Data commentary with strong claims can be attractive to readers.
- It could be concluded that some data commentary with strong claims tend to be attractive to readers.
All three statements are grammatically correct, but statement 1 is more debatable because it’s an overgeneralization. Statement 3, on the other hand, uses words and phrases to excessively weaken the generalization. This act of using weakening words and phrases to show caution is called hedging.
Hedging has two effects when used in a data commentary:
- It modifies the meaning of a sentence. Including words like “generally” or “may” introduces probability into a statement. Other words limit the scope of a statement.
- It gives the reader insight into the writer’s position. Using verbs like “support” instead of “validate” shows the writer is not overcommitted to or confident in a statement.
4 ways to hedge (weaken) statements
1. Reduce likelihood
Reduce likelihood by including a modal before the main verb or by including a phrase before the sentence.
Using hedges can distract readers.
Using hedges may distract readers.
It is likely that using hedges distracts readers.
There is a strong possibility that using hedges distracts readers.
It is clear that . . .
There is a strong possibility that . . .
It is likely that . . .
It is possible that . . .
2. Soften generalizations
Soften generalizations by limiting who/what is included in the topic or by limiting the frequency of the action.
Most researchers use hedges when discussing a study’s limitations.
Researchers generally use hedges when discussing a study’s limitations.
Researchers tend to use hedges when discussing a study’s limitations.
With the exception of some fields, researchers use hedges when discussing a study’s limitations.
a majority of
generally / typically
3. Use weaker verbs
Find weaker verbs by checking for synonyms in a learner’s dictionary or published papers and noting how these verbs alter the meaning in sentences.
The analysis indicates differences between the two populations.
The analysis establishes differences between the two populations.
These differences contributed to the variations in the results.
These differences caused the variations in the results.
4. Combine hedging methods
Any of the previous three ways can be combined to further weaken a statement and still be grammatical. Check publications in your field (especially in the data commentary sections) to see how common writers hedge statements.
The analysis appears to indicate differences between the two populations.
These differences may have contributed to the variations in the results.
Swales, J. M., & Feak, C. B. (2012). Academic writing for graduate students: Essential tasks and skills (3rd ed.). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
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