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Hedging Language & Seeking Clarification in Our Arguments
“Education is a kind of continuing dialogue and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.”
–Robert Hutchins (1899-1977), educator and philosopher
What is hedging language? How is it used?
In academic writing, especially argumentative essays, it is important to argue your claims with supporting facts. Yet, the importance of seeing the other side of the claim or argument is equally as important; a feat that would be nearly impossible without the aid of hedging language. Hedging allows the writer to acknowledge evidence and alternate points of view while remaining non-committal, allowing the reader to see the big picture through the focus of your argument.
In the past, I co-lectured a presentation about this very topic, available on YouTube. Here’s a worksheet I created to get students into the practice of using hedging language:
Hedging Language: Poetry vs. Accuracy
1. What are three vague generalizations about the United States?
2. What are some proverbs or slogans from your country or culture?
3. What are some popular songs that make universal claims?
4. Can you think of two sayings that contradict each other?
5. Techniques for turning vague generalizations with more accurate, responsible statements:
- Add frequency adverb (sometimes, seldom, often)
- Weaken the verb (seem to, appear, tend to)
- Add modal (can, may, might,)
- Add qualifier (one of the best, an effective method)
- Identify conditions (when the information is known)
- Cite source (according to a 2013 WHO report)
6. Can you rewrite a generalization about an American city (New York, Los Angeles, DC, etc.)?
7. Can you rephrase a traditional proverb or popular slogan?
Seek Clarification: Key phrases
Meanwhile, clarity remains essential. Even with the use of hedging language, your audience may have questions. Here is a brief list of prompts to ensure your argument was communicated effectively.
Checking what someone means:
- What do you mean by that?
- Do you mean…?
- In other word….?
- So are you saying…?
- Can you clarify that statement?
- Correct me if I’m wrong, but do you mean…?
- Sorry, I’m not sure if I got that. Are you saying…?
Asking someone to explain what they mean:
- Could you expand on that?
- Which means what?
- Which means exactly what? (more sceptical)
- What are the implications?
- Can you spin that out?
- Sorry, what exactly do you mean by that?
- Sorry, could you go over that again?
Checking that someone has understood you:
- Is that clear?
- Are you with me?
- Does that make everything clear?
- Can we move on?
Do you address hedging language with your English students? What other techniques do you use to help them strengthen their argumentative speeches and essays?
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Thanks for sharing these resources! Truly helpful when working with students on discussions, creating arguments and (of course!) seeking clarification.