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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Use a cautious or tentative style in academic writing

Cautious or tentative style

It is wise to use a cautious tone in your writing, because very often you are discussing issues in which there is no absolutely right answer, or absolutely correct definition, or absolutely perfect solution. If you present something as being the best way, it might easily be shown not to be the best way. Therefore, it is usually better to 'suggest', rather than 'state. 

Here are some phrases that convey a cautious tone.

Introductory verbs:
e.g. seem, tend, look like, appear to be, think, believe, doubt, be sure, indicate, suggest
Certain lexical verbs
e.g. believe, assume, suggest
Certain modal verbs:
e.g. will, must, would, may, might, could
Adverbs of frequency
e.g. often, sometimes, usually
Modal adverbs
e.g. probably, possibly, perhaps, conceivably (compare with less tentative adverbs like certainly, definitely, clearly)
Modal adjectives
e.g. probable, possible (compare with less tentative adjectives like certain, definite, clear)
Modal nouns
e.g. assumption, possibility, probability
That clauses
e.g. It could be the case that .
e.g. It might be suggested that .
e.g. It appears that .    
e.g. It may be that .
e.g. It is likely that .
e.g. This suggests that .
To-clause + adjective
e.g. It may be possible to obtain .
e.g. It is important to develop .
e.g. It is useful to study .

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