Lack of certainty (hedging/down-toning)
Academic writers usually need to tone down their statements, comments and opinions in order to make them academically defensible. This means academic writers should not make statements which cannot be supported. Also, it is important to indicate the level of certainty in statements and conclusions. This can be done by using a weaker verb such as ‘suggests’ or by adding modal verbs such as ‘may/might/could’ before a verb.
Example: These findings show that academic awareness programmes will change the lives of many students who have not previously considered university an option.
There is insufficient caution here.
Example: These findings show that academic awareness programmes may/are likely to change the lives of many students who have not previously considered university an option.
This expresses more caution and so is academically defensible.
Example: Poverty is the cause of juvenile delinquency.
This is too strong and also inaccurate since other factors may be involved.
Example: Poverty has contributed to juvenile delinquency.
This uses a weaker verb and is also more accurate.
Example: The lack of statistical significance is a result of weaknesses in questionnaire design.
This statement indicates that there is no doubt in the writer’s mind about why there is a lack of statistical significance.
Example: The lack of statistical significance is probably a result of weaknesses in questionnaire design.
Here the writer reduces the strength of the statement by inserting ‘probably’.