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Hedging v. Qualifying

 
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Something I have a lot of trouble with in my writing is that I tend to hedge a lot hedging.

In university, I learned that hedging was gender specific.  Men state facts; women try to be polite by over-qualifying what they have to say.  Those days seem to be over as I noticed that in English anyway, males seem appear to hedge as much as female writers, if not more.  It's as if our culture values being polite more than accuracy.  This isn't a bad thing.

If you’re like most people, you may use a lot of phrases like “I think we should . . .” or “I feel like . . .” or “It would be great if . . .” All these phrases are forms of hedging—they’re little qualifiers that undermine what you’re saying.



Think of these two phrases and see which is stronger.

1. I am frustrated.
2. I am feeling really frustrated at this moment.

The first one is shorter to read.  It has nothing to soften the meaning.  The second one is softer but less powerful. The second example is hedged.

Hedging can obscure the meaning, and yet, qualifying is a very powerful tool.

Qualifying basically makes a statement infinitely more accurate by making it less precise.

Qualifying is encouraged on permies.com.

1. The sky is pink.
2. I looked outside and saw that the sky is pink.

The first is inaccurate because the sky isn't pink.  I can look outside the window and see it's sort of a pale blue-grey colour.  See?!  Not pink!  Let's argue (let's not... that' was just an example).
The second says that one person experienced pinkness in the sky at a particular moment in their life.  

So Qualifying is a good thing, especially when presenting a point of view that might be new to other people.



And yet... in my writing, I struggle with word limits.  How to get this article to under 700 words?  How to transform a 200-page book to less than 100 pages?  If I remove the hedging and simplify my qualifiers, I can reduce my word count by 10 to 25%.  

These are just simplely random thoughts in my head.  I don't know where they are going, but I felt like saying them out loud and since my sheep were not interested, I typed them here.  

edit to add: I attempted to cross out most of the hedging, while still keeping the qualifying in this post.
 
r ranson
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Of course, if I had read further in the article before posting, I would learn that,

There are a few reasons a writer might hedge. Hedging makes your statements less direct, and sometimes that feels more polite, especially if you’re expressing disagreement or criticism. Hedging can also feel like an escape hatch. If you turn out to be wrong, well, it was just a random thought you had... . But the feeling of safety you get from hedging is only that: a feeling. In reality, hedging makes you look uncertain and unconfident.



All writing for me, is a balancing act between Qualifying and Hedging.  

When I'm tired and my language brain is not working correctly, I forget to qualify.  I dump my thoughts and this sounds like I'm commanding others to agree with me.  Really, what I'm trying to do is to say "I had this thought, what do you think about the subject?".  Without qualifying this, it comes out too aggressive so when I see that I'm writing this way, I try to avoid the internet until my language brain resets.

But I more often go the other way.  I am an excessive hedger!  It's the pattern I've been taught to think and express my ideas, so I come across as not really knowing what I want to say and people sometimes interpret that as me saying something different than the words I used.  

 
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I think that the tendencies have shifted due to social pressure. Before, I suspect women hedged because a lack of contextual qualification leaves you open to attack, and a male argument against a woman's back in the day was usually ad hominem, at least in subtext.

Nowadays, men are worried about being accused of not listening, of being dismissive, and of failing to allow room for the opinions of women, as the consequences for doing so can be extreme.

And then the pendulum swings, and men are now accused of over-explaining, which we do because suddenly we are feeling unheard and grouped into a single pigeonhole. And then suddenly, we're mansplaining.

So there's a lot of pressure to "get it right," whatever that is, for everyone, and often that means being either scrupulously well-sourced, or deliberately phrasing things so they can be taken ambiguously.

Thankfully, nobody on this site has to worry about anything of the sort. Everyone qualifies everything, to the point sometimes of hedging, because that's the only way to properly leave room for the opinions of others.

-CK
 
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I think the "be nice" philosophy on this site tends to force hedging.

I was writing this as Chris posted.
 
r ranson
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Trace Oswald wrote:I think the "be nice" philosophy on this site tends to force hedging.



It requires qualifying.  I don't know if it forces hedging.

It encourages stating something as an experience (I saw a pink sky) or an opinion (I think the sky is pink) instead of saying something is a fact (the sky is pink).

Qualifying and hedging look the same from the outside.

But once I got deep into editing big bodies of text, I could see that they are very different creatures.  

In my first post on this thread, I attempted to cross out the hedging and leave the qualifying.
 
r ranson
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In a forum setting, the word count is huge.  We don't really need to edit out hedging.  We can merge qualifying and hedging together to make our communication softer.

In print media, things are different.  Too many words lose the attention of the reader.  They read print media to discover what an authority has to say on the topic.  In this situation, removing hedging gives the writing more power to influence the reader.  
 
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Exactly my thoughts,instead of master steward I will call you The Commander:)
Very interesting topic and the first I thought of this was how these two,Qualifing and hedging, works for a person with limited words in a language like me for example.It would be interesting to know how other perceive me as a person based on these qualifing and hedging.I do not think I hedge so much because I do not have the words to do it.Once again,very interesting topic!
 
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I just want to participate in discussions without having to think about my writing. All this word type, function and placement reminds me of the dreaded assiduous parse tree sentence diagramming I did in high school english
 
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I like to qualify sufficiently for accuracy and precision, but no more. Hedging usually bothers me.

Another tactic to consider is active versus passive voice.

You used “I am frustrated” vs “I am feeling frustrated at this moment” as examples. Both are in passive voice, which is often safer if you are trying to be non-confrontational, but which usually sounds weaker and less direct in writing (much like hedging). In active voice, it might be “You frustrate me” or “This policy frustrates me” or “Society’s apathy on this topic frustrates me” or “I frustrate myself.” In having to specify a subject, your language becomes more precise, but it can also make it about the other person rather than your own feelings, which is not best practice for non-violent communication.
 
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I very seldom do this. Probably the only time I feel the need to hedge, is if I'm presenting something as completely speculative because it's an idea I've had that is unproven. If it's something that I've actually done and have experience with, I present it as gospel truth. I think most people will realize that it's my truth and therefore an opinion. People are welcome to challenge that opinion.  

If we were talking about fasteners, I might say, such and such quality of screw has far more holding power than whatever, and I'm not going to qualify that. I'm more likely to state how many things I've built with that particular fastener and I've been building stuff like this for 30 years. Some stuff like that is pretty cut-and-dry and you could dig up a whole lot of research to back it up, if you chose. But if I said Fuji apples are far superior to Red Delicious, because they don't go all soft and grainy in storage, that is still my truth, but something that is at least a little more debatable. Maybe other people have eaten nice hard red delicious apples, and it was the Fujis that went soft after 3 weeks. I can only tell what happened to me.

Some things are very true to one person because of location, while they might be completely untrue for someone else in a different location. A guy growing bananas in rural Guatemala might say there's no point even putting bananas at the road for sale, because everybody grows bananas, so nobody wants to buy any. Another person living along the main highway leading into Nairobi, might say the best thing to do, is to set up a table on the roadside because everybody driving into the city wants to stock up on fruit before they get there. A third person, living near Mexico City might say there's no point selling anything at the road, because the cartel will demand so much of your profits that you might as well have dumped them. Completely opposing views that can all be equally true.
 
r ranson
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I very seldom do this. Probably the only time I feel the need to hedge, is if I'm presenting something as completely speculative because it's an idea I've had that is unproven.



and without the hedging, it looks like

I seldom hedge. The only time I feel the need to hedge is if I'm presenting a speculative or unproven idea.



Dale, how could I resist when you give me such a beautiful material to work with?


But this shows another problem I have with my editing.  Hedging adds rhythm and 'voice' to a piece.  Edit it all away and we lose the voice of the writer.  

But then again, removing hedging is the fastest way to get my word count under the limit.  
 
Dale Hodgins
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Yes, "probably" seems like a weak word. I would much prefer to present my way or the highway, in a manner that still meets publishing standards.
.....
That's how it is when I talk to my friend Chris. I tell him the absolute truth about something and then he tells me that I'm full of shit and he presents a bunch of garbage that he believes is the absolute truth. Then he'll say, this is why people say your rigid, and I'll say everyone knows you're soft, ----- headed.... And we're still friends.

Obviously, we have very low publishing standards. Me and Chris. The rule is, if you've already thought it, you get to say it.
 
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I think I hedge a lot.  Years in the corporate world taught me how to say things in a soft way so I wouldn't make situations worse.  Talking to a mechanic or millwright required a totally different speaking style than talking to a marketing person or scientist.  They all required some hedging and responsible qualifying.

If I told a mechanic "I wonder if we could swing that module around counterclockwise to get it around that beam?" it worked MUCH better than if I said "Swing that module counterclockwise to avoid the beam".

Likewise, telling a scientist "From what I've seen, the variability in the fluff and SAM weight per product may contribute to increased leakage complaints (diaper making)" worked much better than "Fluff and SAM weight variability causes leakage complaints".  The former allows for a conversation.  The latter gets their hackles up and you start debating study results vs complaint trends.

I must say I hadn't thought of the difference between the two before.

And my wife hates round-about conversation as you work your way up to what you really want her to do.  Just get to the damn point already.
 
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It would have been interesting to know how this is used among for example layers.I guess this is a big subject in their education.
Today I have inspection from the Swedish authorities and I wonder if I shall be qualifying or hedging to them.I would rather kick them in the ass but I think that is disqualifying:))
 
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r ranson wrote: 1. The sky is pink.



I was really surprised when I looked through the pictures I took of the sky. Our eyes and brain do a really good job at turning the skewed colors from atmospheric effects into actually recognizable ones.
DSC_5457.jpg
[Thumbnail for DSC_5457.jpg]
purple sky
DSC_5864.jpg
[Thumbnail for DSC_5864.jpg]
pink sky
 
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r ranson wrote:In a forum setting, the word count is huge.  We don't really need to edit out hedging.  We can merge qualifying and hedging together to make our communication softer.

In print media, things are different.  Too many words lose the attention of the reader.  They read print media to discover what an authority has to say on the topic.  In this situation, removing hedging gives the writing more power to influence the reader.  




I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Blaise_Pascal

I love this quote, because it sums up what I try to achieve in my communication. When I write I take the time to craft my words to make my meaning clear. Hedging obscures clarity, but also shifts the cognitive burden to the reader. Simple words, clearly drafted, are powerful.

I feel that the unlimited word count on things like forums and facebook distract from that clarity, because little pressure is felt by the writer to craft their meaning carefully.
 
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