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Centre for Learning and Study Support (CLaSS): Grammar Toolkit/Expressing opinions

Enhancing academic practice, writing development and study skills

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Expressing opinions

In academic writing, when expressing our views or presenting an argument, very few ideas can be stated as fact. Usually, our ideas contribute to a much wider debate. In this case, stating that something is a certainty can imply a lack of awareness around a topic area. Often it is more appropriate to lean towards caution.

Tentativeness

Tentativeness refers to the various language choices that can be made between yes/no (something that is certain) and maybe (something that is not certain). By making certain choices about language, students can express varying degrees of certainty in their work. Consider the examples below:

 

  • Group work always benefits students. (Yes, high certainty)
  • Group work often benefits students (Yes, Certain)
  • Group work may benefit students. (Tentative, low certainty)
  • Group work does not benefit students. (No, high certainty)

 

For academic purposes, writing tends to be more tentative and expresses low certainty. Therefore, low tentative language is used to convey a reasoned and objective argument.

Examples of tentative and certain language

Below are some examples of the types of language that express both low and high certainty.

The language used in the tentative box is generally more appropriate for academic writing unless you are making recommendations for future research.

Tip

A traditional scientiļ¬c perspective might be concerned with proving or disproving a hypothesis, in which case more certainty may be required. However, there still needs to be awareness that further experiments by others (or yourself) may disprove this certainty.


Tentative writing checklist

 

Library Resources

Further resources

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

•Academic Phrasebank  (University of Manchester) provides sample sentence starters for introducing sources in your work

•Using tentative language in academic writing is also referred to as hedging. Check this explanation and activity from UEfAP

Downloads

To download a PDF copy of the Tentative writing checklist, click the link below.