Hedges and Boosters in Academic Writing: Native vs. Non-Native Research Articles in Applied Linguistics and Engineering

Document Type: Research Paper


University of Tabriz


The expression of doubt and certainty is crucial in academic writing where the authors have to distinguish opinion from fact and evaluate their assertions in acceptable and persuasive ways. Hedges and boosters are two strategies used for this purpose. Despite their importance in academic writing, we know little about how they are used in different disciplines and genres and how foreign language writers present assertions in their writing. This study explores the use of hedges and boosters in the research articles of two disciplines of Electrical Engineering and Applied Linguistics. It further examines the use of hedges and boosters by native and non-native writers of English in these research articles. Based on a corpus of twenty research articles, the overall rhetorical and categorical distribution of hedges and boosters were calculated across four rhetorical sections (Abstract, Introduction, Discussion, and Conclusion) of the research articles. The analysis shows that the overall distribution of hedges and boosters in Applied Linguistics articles is higher than Electrical Engineering articles. Moreover, there are significant differences between native and non-native writers in the use of hedges and boosters. These findings may have some implications for the teaching of academic writing especially to EFL learners.


Brown, J. D. (1988). Understanding research in second language learning (2nd edition). Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

 Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Coates, J. (1983). The Semantics of modal auxiliaries. Beckenham: Croom Helm.

Crompton, P. (1997). Hedging in academic writing: Some theoretical problems. English for Specific Purposes, 16(4), 271-287.

Crystal, D. (1995). In search of English: A traveler's guide. ELT Journal, 49(2), 107-121.

Falahati, R. (2006). The use of hedging across different disciplines and rhetorical sections of  research articles. [Papers from the 22nd Northwest Linguistics Conference] (www.sfu.ca/gradlings/NWLC-Proceedings.htm).

Holmes, J. (1982). Expressing doubt and certainty in English. RELC Journal, 13(2), 19-28.

Holmes, J. (1984). Modifying illocutionary force. Journal of Pragmatics, 8, 345-365.

Holmes, J. (1988). Doubt and certainty in ESL textbooks. Applied Linguistics, 9(1), 20-44.

Holmes, J. (1990). Hedges and boosters in women's and men's speech. Language and  Communication, 10(3), 185-205.

Hyland, K. (1996a). Talking to the academy: Forms of hedging in science research articles.  Written Communication, 13(2), 251-281.

Hyland, K. (1996b). Writing without conviction? Hedging in science research articles. Applied  Linguistics, 17(4), 433-454.


Hyland, K. (1996c). Nurturing hedges in the ESP curriculum. System, 24(4), 477-490.

Hyland, K. (1998). Boosting, hedging and the negotiation of academic Knowledge. TEXT, 18(3), 349-382.

Hyland, K. (2000). Hedges, boosters and lexical invisibility: Noticing Modifiers in academic texts. Language Awareness, 9 (4), 179-194.

Hyland, K., & Milton, J. (1997). Qualification and certainty in L1 and L2 Students' writing. Journal of Second Language Writing, 6 (2), 183-205.

Lewin, B.A. (2005). Hedging: An exploratory study of authors' and readers' identification of 'toning down' in scientific texts. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 4, 163-178.

Myers, G. (1989). The pragmatics of politeness in scientific articles. Applied Linguistics, 10 (1), 1-35.

Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., & Starvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of  English language. London and New York: Longman.

Salager-Meyer, F. (1994). Hedges and textual communicative function in medical English written discourse. English for Specific Purposes, 13 (2), 149-170.

Skelton, J. (1997). The representation of truth in academic medical writing. Applied  Linguistics, 18 (2), 121-140.

Stubbs, M. (1986). 'A matter of prolonged fieldwork': Notes towards a model grammar of  English. Applied Linguistics, 7 (1), 1-25.

Swales, J. M. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J. M. (2004). Research genres: Exploration and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thomas, J. (1983). Cross-cultural pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 4(2), 91-112.

Thue Vold, E. (2006). Epistemic modality markers in research articles: a Cross-linguistic and cross-disciplinary study. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 16 (1), 61-87.

Varttala, T. (2001). Hedging in scientifically oriented discourse: Exploring variation

 according to discipline and intended audience. Electronic doctoral dissertation. Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis 138 (http://acta.uta.fi/pdf/951-44-5195-3.pdf).

Vassileva, I. (2001). Commitment and detachment in English and Bulgarian academic writing.  English for Specific Purposes, 20, 83-102.

West, G. K. (1980). That-nominal constructions in traditional rhetorical divisions of  scientific research papers. TESOL Quarterly, 14, 483-488.