Hedging: An exploratory study of authors' and readers' identification of 'toning down' in scientific texts

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In preparing students for their future discourse communities, the EAP/ESP literature has shown interest in the role of hedges in scientific literature. This interest has resulted in several studies that define and classify hedges, and hypothesize about their purpose. With these as our theoretical basis, we are led to ask "What is the relation to actual practice?" To paraphrase [R. Markkanen & H. Schroder (Eds.) (1997). Hedging and discourse: Approaches to the analysis of a pragmatic phenomenon in academic texts. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.], a hedge exists when it is mutually recognized by author and reader. This article represents a very tentative attempt to explore this conceptual space. In Study I, I asked authors to identify hedges in their own texts, and their motivation for using them. In Study II, I presented three of these texts to EAP students (PhD candidates), requesting them to identify the hedges. There are three main findings. Firstly, the authors' choices of hedges did not coincide with definitions previously reported in the literature. Secondly, the authors did not cite politeness as a general motivation for hedging. Thirdly, there was a great divergence between readers' and authors' identifications; in general, readers identified many more instances of hedges than were intended by the authors. If validated on a larger scale, these findings have implications for instruction in reading and writing scientific articles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-178
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of English for Academic Purposes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2005


  • English for Academic Purposes
  • Hedging
  • Scientific texts
  • Toning down


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