Improving your academic writing style doesn’t always mean learning increasingly-lofty vocabulary. You can also improve your syntax using words you already know. This post will show you how, with lots of examples you can adapt in your own writing.
Many of you will already know that linguistic signposting helps our readers follow our line of argument. For example, words like additionallyand finallyindicate what kind of idea is coming next. Therefore, adverbs like these are considered part of academic lexis. However, if you reread this paragraph, you’ll notice that overusing them or using them in the same structure many times makes for stilted, repetitive writing! Let’s see how you can improve this and ‘level up’ your style… Continue reading “Level up your academic writing style using familiar words”→
Pub quiz and trivia fans take note: we may soon have to add Zealandia to the list of known continents. A recent article published by the Geological Society of America argues in favour of categorising the pacific landmass below New Zealand as a new continent. Their paper is engaging even for a non-specialist, and it also provides an excellent demonstration of how hedging language is used as a matter of course in academic writing.
Hedging language is used to ‘soften’ any certainties we want to express in academic writing. Counterintuitive as it may seem, adding this language of uncertainty and doubt strengthens your academic standpoint by protecting it from being undermined. Let’s take a look at the first sentence of this article for a demo. If I have said,
we will have to add Zealandia to the list of continents.
this sentence could easily have been disproven. However, by saying
we may soon have to add Zealandia to the list of knowncontinents.
I’ve largely protected my statement from counterargument.
Hedging also lets us acknowledge that we are working with the best information currently available, but that this will likely be superseded in the future. Regarding their own conclusions, Mortimer et al. state,
This is not a sudden discovery but a gradual realization; as recently as 10 years ago we would not have had the accumulated data or confidence in interpretation to write this paper.
This type of language is so prevalent in academic writing that most native speakers hedge automatically, but non-native speakers would do well to pay attention to how (and how frequently) it is used. For instance, the GSA Today article is peer reviewed, the abstract clearly states the authors’ thesis, and their well-structured argument is convincingly supported. Nonetheless, the whole text is peppered with various types of hedging language:
relatively thick… more correctly… almost never…
it seems unlikely that… possibly suggests that…
To our knowledge,…
It is assumed that… first proposed…
It is generally agreed that…
[descriptions are] misleading if they omit Zealandia.
Once you start to look for examples of academic hedging, you will realise just how widespread it is in English. Of course, you can overuse hedging, but in my experience few non-native writers are in danger of this (at least initially).
As ever, the best way to develop a ‘feel’ for hedging is to actively read academic writing, noting and reflecting on the language used. If you’d like a more specific list of terms to use in your own writing, I recommend this section of Manchester University’s Academic Phrasebank.
Do you actively reflect on the hedging in your writing? Does hedging exist to the same degree in your language? Let me know!