Skip to main content

Academic writing

Convey your opinion

There is rarely one answer to a question or assignment. Research, ideas and arguments should always be open to being challenged, so it is important that the language you use acknowledges this. In your academic work, you should not present something as a fact that might not be.

In academic writing, you can use language to show how confident you are about an argument or claim you are discussing. The common ways to do this are often referred to as hedges or boosters. You can also use different reporting verbs to convey your feelings or attitude towards a topic

Hedges

When writing, be careful of using words such as "definitely" or "proves". Ask yourself whether your statement is a fact or whether there may be some doubt either now or in the future.

Some useful hedging words and phrases to use in your work are:

  • “This suggests...”
  • “It is possible that...”
  • “A possible explanation...”
  • “Usually...”
  • “Sometimes...”
  • “Somewhat...”

Read the following two sentences:

  1. “Research proves that drinking a large volume of fizzy drinks containing sugar leads to the development of type II diabetes.”
  2. “Research suggests that high consumption of fizzy drinks containing sugar may contribute to the development of type II diabetes.”

In sentence 1, the statement is presented as proven fact: that a high volume of sugary fizzy drinks will definitely lead to type II diabetes. This leaves no room for doubt or criticism or the fact that some people may drink large volumes of fizzy drinks and never develop type II diabetes.

In sentence 2, the writer has used 'hedging language' – 'suggests' and 'may contribute' – to show that while there is evidence to link sugary drinks and type II diabetes, this may not be true for every person and may be proven to be incorrect in the future.

Other examples of hedging phrases are:

In what appears to be the first formalised study on caregiver burden...

If students experience a positive, helpful attitude from the librarians they encounter, it may help them to adopt a positive perception of academic librarians in general.

He claims that luck is a major factor in whether people are successful in all aspects of their lives.

Boosters

You might want to express a measure of certainty or conviction in your writing and this is when “booster” language can help.

Some useful booster words and phrases to use in your work are:

  • “Clearly” (only use if you are certain it is clear)
  • “There is a strong correlation...”
  • “Results indicate...”

Take the same sentence as used in the previous section:

  1. “Research suggests that high consumption of fizzy drinks containing sugar may contribute to the development of type II diabetes.”
  2. “Research indicates a clear link between the high consumption of a large volume of fizzy drinks containing sugar and the development of type II diabetes.”

In sentence 1, the writer has used the hedging language 'suggested' and 'may contribute', to show that while there is evidence to link sugary drinks and type II diabetes this may not be true for every person and may be proven to be incorrect in the future.

In sentence 2, the writer still uses language to allow for doubt and argument but it is clear that this writer is more convinced by the research.

The Manchester Academic Phrasebank provides many more examples that you can use in your written work.

Reporting verbs

Reporting verbs can be grouped into the three main categories of strong, neutral and tentative:

  • Strong verbs convey a degree of certainty about an issue.
  • Neutral verbs do not indicate any value judgements on the part of the author. They are rather descriptive in tone.
  • Tentative verbs show that the writer tends to feel a certain way about an issue but is not wholly sure.

Below are common examples of strong, neutral and tentative reporting verbs.

This table compares the three types of reporting verb: strong, neutral and tentative, by listing examples of each.
Strong Neutral Tentative
argue
assert
challenge
contend
counter the view that
deny
emphasise
maintain
negate
theorize
refute
reject
strongly believe that
support the view that
assume
demonstrate
describe
examine
illustrate
indicate
mention
note
observe
point out
report
reveal
show
state
study
claim
hypothesise
imply
intimate
moot
posit the view that
postulate
propose
question the view that
recommend
speculate
suggest