A spoonful of science can make science writing more hedged

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David Casenove
Steve Kirk


The present paper focuses on the acquisition of hedging techniques by first-year undergraduate students at the University of Tokyo in Japan. One of the major difficulties faced by aspiring science writers lies in positioning their arguments in relation to the preexisting literature. This originates from the fact that writing in the field of natural sciences is built around the evaluation of uncertainty pertaining to an experimental analysis. In addition to the display of statistical estimators (e.g. p-value), the level of confidence inherent to scientific findings is generally communicated through hedging. Hedging allows authors to communicate the credibility of their statements so as to persuade the audience of the soundness of their interpretations while ensuring that these statements remain within the context that is accepted by their scientific community. Hedging is often used in the Discussion section of scientific reports and, to a lesser extent, in the Introduction. Second language learners of English face difficulties when writing these sections due to the use of hedges. Using a qualitative analysis of 20 student papers we found that students express uncertainty in relation to scientific information differently when dealing with their own experimental data compared to results in the literature. We argue that completing an actual scientific experiment within a science writing class is important to provide the context in which the theoretical rules of hedging are applied. 


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Research / Empirical