Some of you may have heard of ‘hedging’ in academic writing; indeed, it is a profusely useful tool to employ and helps ‘protect’ your writing from excessive scrutiny. If you are unfamiliar with hedging, just imagine the other types of ‘hedges’ that you can imagine: a hedge in a garden, for instance, helps protect or safeguard you from unwanted intrusions into your privacy. You may have heard of ‘hedge funds’ which protect financial investments from uncertainty in the market.
Hedges in academic writing take on a similar flavour – their purpose is to protect/safeguard you (the author) from uncertainty. In the academic world it is, generally-speaking, accepted that multiple perspectives might be elicited regarding the same research project.
Indeed, this is often a natural part of research progress… you can just about guarantee that anything you write will have at least one critic or detractor who insists that another perspective ought to be considered. Whilst scholars don’t want their work to be torn to pieces, they do want it to inspire debate and conversation.
Hedging leaves that space. They create a protective barrier that allows you to make your assertions, but protect them within a ‘hedge’ to allow space for others to object or suggest alternative ideas.
For instance, notice the difference between these two sentences:
No hedge: Women had just as much access to the working world in the 19th century as men.
HEdge: This research suggests that women had just as much access to the working world in the 19th century as men.
You notice that the second sentence leaves room for disagreement; this is how you can effectively use hedging
Of course, on the one hand you don’t want to hedge everything you write… it’s important to make emphatic assertions in your academic work (especially at postgraduate level). You ought to be confident and secure in the claims you are making (if not, you should probably do more reseearch until you are!)
So, for example, if your overarching argument for your dissertation was this:
Women had more opportunities to work in the 19th century than has been previously believed.
You would not want to add a hedge to this, as it makes your entire piece of work weaker. Think of it this way: why would anyone want to read 10K + word essay in which something ‘seems to be the case’?
Women possibly had more opportunities to work in the 19th century than has been previously believed.
If there are any statements in a dissertation of which you should be profusely certain, it is certainly your overarching argument.
However, it is acknowledged that you cannot do all the necessary in-depth research for every suggestion you make in a piece of writing (especially when we are talking about thousands of words!)…thus, hedges give you the space to make suggestions without having to back up each of these sentences with years of research. Here are some useful hedges you might like to employ:
appears to be