Hedging Strategies for Presenting Unclear Ideas

Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

We often see negative hedging strategies in politics, but they're not always tools of evasion or dishonesty. In research writing, hedging strategies can help you present complex ideas responsibly without misleading your readers. In this lesson, we'll learn techniques for writing about such unclear ideas.

When and How to Use Hedging Strategies

Hedging strategies are useful tools whenever you need to present research that yields incomplete or inconclusive data, analyses with conflicting results, or results that may be skewed or biased. For example, in 2011, NASA discovered the first earth-sized habitable zone planets beyond our solar system, but the information available on other earth-class planets that may support life is still very incomplete. As another example, a recent report found no conclusive evidence that flossing your teeth regularly is beneficial. As a last example, there is concern that clinical research funded by pharmaceutical companies may unethically report positive findings on the effectiveness of drugs sold by that company.

These are all illustrations in which the research of the topics may be limited or unreliable. When writing about complex, controversial, or theoretical subjects, report the available information responsibly. This means discussing concepts from as many angles as possible and alerting readers to any known informational gaps, biases, and conflicts. It also involves using language that clearly and fairly navigates subjective ideas. While your points don't always need to be bulletproof, they do need to make a convincing argument. Where unclear ideas are concerned, communicate what is objective and what is subjective so that readers don't confuse the ambiguity of research findings with muddy logic on your part. These strategies will help the reader find meaning in what you're presenting, as well as generate questions and conclusions of their own.

360-Degree Research

The best way to help paint a clear, succinct picture of what information currently exists is to provide as much reliable and useful research from multiple standpoints as possible. Start by summarizing a foundation or background of undisputed facts on the subject, then indicate where the more subjective ground is. As you introduce research that offers equivocal conclusions, say so. You can then create meaning and support your thesis in other ways. This can be done by showing the relationships between the sources you're using, why the sources are important to your thesis, and how the nature of each source may affect interpretations of the existing data. This accomplishes three important things: it relieves you of the burden of definitive or encyclopedic reporting, gives you credit for having ''done your homework'' objectively, and enables readers to think critically about your topic for themselves.

The London Eye, with a 360-degree view of the city
The London Eye, with a 360-degree view of the city

Alert Readers to Information Gaps and Conflicting Views

When you run into information gaps or conflicting views on a subject, don't try to ignore or hide them or make assumptions about them. Instead, report relevant instances and briefly explain how they affect an understanding of your topic. In some cases, these discrepancies may help to debunk the argument opposed to yours. Either way, this strategy creates transparency. Rather than allowing readers to suspect you may have deliberately misconstrued or left out data, clearly state the research obstacles of your topic, then explain your reasoning with these in mind. This establishes your honesty as a writer and also showcases your ability to think critically even in contexts where ideas can't be fully defined.

London Underground caution sign for subway users
London Underground caution sign for subway users

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