It is not always possible to make an absolute statement in Arts and Humanities disciplines such as English. You can be certain about proven factual matters and well-argued and substantiated interpretations:
- "one of the ways in which the "peasant" poets communicate the authenticity of their poetic voice - that is, their genuine peasanthood and their lack of formal education - is through the use of very specific imagery and lexical sets. For Duck and Collier, this involves the use of the lexicon of their respective trades and highly detailed description of specific processes."
Other issues may be arguable, but should not be stated with a level of certainty which may not be justifiable, especially if other views are equally possible.
- "However, this specificity, which purports to be the symptom of an artless and authentic poetic voice, can be considered as part of the overarching poetic of the peasant poets. Moreover, the poets' insistence on their authenticity suggests that to some extent their identity is rather an assumed and artificial construction."
Therefore, to avoid overstating your case or misleading your reader about the degree of certainty or debate which is possible, you might use language that 'hedges' or nuances your conclusions. Used sparingly, this does not necessarily give the impression that you are not confident in your conclusions; in contrast, it demonstrates that you have a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of what it is possible to argue. If you sound overly certain of your conclusions, your reader may question whether that confidence is justified, or whether you have really explored the issue in depth.
Examples of hedging language include:
- 'can be considered', 'suggests that', 'seems to', 'can be said to'
However, it is important not to overuse hedging language, or include it if it is not warranted, as it can make you seem underconfident of your own conclusions and unable to argue them convincingly. If you make a statement, and you can support it, you need not hedge it too much.
"In the end we'd rather you ventured a suggestion. Of course you're often dealing with weighty issues that haven't leant themselves to clear answers, but we know that, and nevertheless we made you tackle the question. We really do want to hear what you think."
Note where the following text uses hedging language to signal caution, and where it makes assertions confidently:
Shakespeare's sonnets demonstrate that he exploited the potential of literary forms as a means of argument. Argument is not a purely cognitive activity in which one's case is always made cogently and explicitly; both in life and literature it is reliant upon suggestion and an appeal to the emotions, as is evident in Sonnet 42. On a superficial level, the argument appears to be that of the poet within himself; he seems to have successfully convinced himself through witty conceit that his ‘grief' is in fact a ‘joy'. However, the true argument is directed at the reader; Shakespeare suggests that the offered consolation is entirely insubstantial. The apparent retreat to internality (‘thee' becomes ‘my friend' in the thirteenth line, indicating that the poem is no longer addressed to the friend) suggests a lack of confidence which prevents the poet from making public the conceit-based argument, while the flat contradiction of the preceding lines in ‘she loves but me alone' means that this effect does not rely on any exophoric reference on the reader's part; the inconsistency is a fundamental aspect of the poem's design. Although the sonnet is an entirely different medium from the play, this poem demonstrates two aspects of Shakespearian argument which, it will here be contended, are evident in the problem plays: firstly, that Shakespeare's argumentative method is to appeal to the emotions rather than to reason, and secondly that he argues through negation (as, for example, he negates the abandoned lover's consolation in Sonnet 42). The term ‘problem plays' will here be taken as referring to The Merchant of Venice, All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure. Although other plays, notably Troilus and Cressida, have also been placed in this category by critics, they have much less in common with these three than they do with each other.
- The text makes some statements which are either factual or which are well established views and do not need hedging: "Shakespeare's sonnets demonstrate that he exploited the potential of literary forms as a means of argument"; "the [plays] have much less in common with these three than they do with each other."
- Other statements are hedged, as they are open to other interpretations: "The apparent retreat to internality [...] suggests a lack of confidence which prevents the poet from making public the conceit-based argument."
- Some statements are not hedged, as they are clearly positioned as thesis statements on the part of the writer, which the essay then defends with evidence. As such, they are not hedged, but stated with confidence: "However, the true argument is directed at the reader; Shakespeare suggests that the offered consolation is entirely insubstantial."