Hedging Your Bets and Minding Your Modals
It is not uncommon to be uncertain — either in science or in daily life. Therefore, it is not surprising that we have many ways, in our writing, to convey uncertainty. Collectively, the words and phrases used for this purpose are called hedges. Examples would be expressions such as “As far as we know …” or “It is thought that …”. Hedging expressions are both common and very useful in biomedical writing, and so authors should be well practiced in their use.
There are a great many reasons for deliberately registering uncertainty in a passage of scientifi c writing (7, 8). A parsimonious interpretation of hedging is that by being vague we protect ourselves against criticism or the territorial instincts of other researchers. If that were the purpose of hedging, however, it could be deemed a striking failure — criticism is an integral part of the process of science, and tricks of word choice are unlikely to spare us. A more realistic interpretation of hedging in scientifi c writing is that it accurately refl ects the inescapable incompleteness of our knowledge (7). Hence, when we hedge in our writing, we are quite overtly signaling that we have reached the limit of our knowledge.
KeywordsModal Verb Consensus Statement Good Service Classical Modal Verb Realistic Interpretation
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