ЕНУ им. Л.Н.Гумилева Астана, Казахстан email@example.com
BOOSTING AND HEDGING AS METADISCURSIVE STRATEGIES FOR INDICATING A GAP IN THE PREVIOUS RESEARCH
This article focuses on the boosters and hedges as metadiscursive strategies for indicating a gap in the previous studies and as the authorial persuasive tools for promoting the research. The study utilizes the quantitative and qualitative approaches to the analyses of articles from high impact-factor journals. The results of the quantitative analysis suggest that the authors employ considerably more boosters than hedges, which can be explained by the rhetorical function of the ‘indicating a gap’ step, i.e. emphasizing the shortcomings and other weaknesses in the literature on the topic under consideration. On the other hand, the qualitative analysis also proves that the authors of the articles attempt to use both metadiscursive means to conform to the genre requirements and discursive community expectations of holding a due balance in advancing their claims.
Key words: metadiscourse, booster, hedge, indicating a gap, rhetorical strategy, step.
The research article takes a pertinent position in research publications, and viewed as the main means for the dissemination of knowledge, the promotion of claims and their ratification. The rhetorical structure of the article and its linguistic shape along with the authorial persuasive stance are largely influenced by the expectations of the research community and discipline gatekeepers. The prominent tools for promoting the claims are to be the metadiscursive devices among which are boosters and hedges. They assist in presenting the finding by making the discourse more convincing and acceptable by the audience. They are also considerably effective in positing the gaps or limitations in the previous research for the author to attribute more importance to the present study. This article focuses on the metadiscourse which emphasizes the weaknesses in the literature on the topic matter under consideration.
Generally, metadiscourse in academic research has been well documented in different studies under various terms as attitude , epistemic modality , evaluation , , , appraisal , , and metadiscourse . All these terms denote diverse devices utilized by authors to articulate their stance which is defined as “the ways authors project themselves into their texts to communicate their relationship to subject matter and the readers” [9, 101] to be a “community recognized personality” [10, 176]. A remarkable part of the metadiscourse means is occupied by hedges and boosters that have been extensively studied and defined as “communicative strategies for increasing or reducing the force of statements” ([11, 1].
The significant role of hedging in research articles is well scrutinized in different studies , , ,
. There have been conducted inquiries into hedges across languages and some inter-language comparative investigations found divergences in the strategic use of hedges , . These studies have outlined some similarities and differences in the employment of metadiscourse from socio-cultural point of view. Cultural factors construe our background knowledge and affect the language use and structuring the writing. A pragmatic approach to hedges made a notable contribution to understanding that they function as social and individual markers of behavior. Thus, there have been delineated several functions of hedges one of which is preventing possible negative effects of the strong statements from readers , . Hedging supposes that writers are aware of the rules of behavior regarding the face of the others, as Myers  notes their function of minimization of the potential threat the claims pose to readers. Moreover, writers are expected to witness deference to the community members when positing strong claims.
Boosters, by contrast, have received less attention in academic research but Swales considers them as “powerful rhetorical tools” to show the author’s commitment to a proposition [17, 151]. Holmes argues that they build conversational solidarity . Myers finds them as positive politeness devices to create common grounds with readers for achieving solidarity . Indeed, boosters build up an effective argument toward the rhetorical purpose of evaluating the academic literature available on the matter, especially when indicating a gap, which serves a motivation for further investigations. They are strong meaning-making resources that construe different patterns in presenting an effective research. According to Hyland it is a common practice for researchers in the humanities to point to “recognized gaps in existing knowledge” [19, 150]. Foregrounding a gap or limitations in the previous studies authors simultaneously make a novelty point in the present research which is itself may sound quite bulky particularly provided that extensive investigations have provided quite sufficient findings to start off. As a result, authors have to be certain of the claims proposed, because this demands scrutinizing the constantly appearing literature on the topic. Basically, indicating a gap in the literature is a strong pragmatic act conceived of as a negative reference to the predecessors of the science and, a priori, can be categorical, a face-threatening act. Subsequently, it should be framed in a more polite and appropriate smother language not to contract the dialogic tone of the discourse , which is likely due to the employment of hedges.
This article focuses on the metadiscourse which emphasizes any kinds of weaknesses or limitations in the literature on the topic matter under consideration. To this end, 30 abstracts and 30 introduction sections of the articles published in high-impact factors journals have been analyzed. They include those published between 2000-2017, such as English for Academic Purposes (EAP), English for Specific Purposes (ESP), Discourse Studies (DS), Journal of Pragmatics (JP) and Written Communication (WC) with the IntroductionMethod-Results-Discussion organization structure (IMRD), traditional for Anglo-American academic culture. The focus on the Abstract and Introduction sections is justified by the practice that the “Indicating a gap” step is mainly common in these parts of an article. The study draws on the CARS pattern by Swales (Swales, 1990), which emphasizes the moves and steps of writing and analyzing an academic text. The articles from the mentioned journal have been randomly selected from the table of contents of the journals. On the whole, the model used for the analysis of metadiscourse was Hyland’s , which has been elaborated in the present article for the purposes of the research. The preliminary results of the statistical counting are presented in Table 1 according to the meanings and functions they provide, beginning with the markers of the strongest claims to the smother ones. Additionally, the boosters and hedges are classified to present the semantic convergence within the group and divides between them. Overall, the boosters indicate the dimensions of absence, scarcity or weaknesses in the studies, while the hedges mitigate the claims in terms of their evidentiality, relativity and opinion. These dimensions are based on the cognitive patterns of understanding and interpretation of the knowledge provided. Ultimately, the emergencies of the boosters and hedges demonstrate quite typical patterning of the gap-indicating strategy in academic discourse. Table 1. Most frequent hedges and boosters in the corpus
Hedges Frequency Boosters Frequency
appear 3 no (study),
tend 3 (not studied, investigated, scrutinized) 12 never (been scrutinized thoroughly) 1 remain underexplored 1 absence 1 overlooked 3 neither …nor 1 non (of the conclusions) 1
relatively 2 largely neglected 2 comparatively 3 (very) few (fewer), (little, less), small 22 to a lesser extent 1 lack 7 generally 2 void 2 to (the best) my (our) knowledge 4 gap 2 possible(ly) 2 scarcity (of research) 1 in part 1 brief (accounts) 1 limited (limitation) 6 far from complete (incomplete) 3 rarely 2 seldom (addressed) 4
deserve (more attention) 4 scant (attention) 1 not pay due attention 1 inadequate 1 difficult to distinguish 1 problem (to be dealt with) 2 many, much (more) 4
doubt 1 need 4 however 7 should 4 also 2 can 6 alone 1
may 1 only 7
Total 36 104
Results and Discussion
The provisional statistical data suggest more boosters (104 occurrences) than hedges (36), which is not surprising, taking into account the communicative purpose of the step, i.e. to find the issue(s) overlooked or insufficiently investigated. This strategy can hold the overall interest of the article and add more significance to the research. There are more boosters like (very) few, little, small (22 in all) emphasizing insufficient inquiry in the topic by which the authors tend to acknowledge the presence of some research conducted. Ultimately, they do not deny that some consistent research is available but their scarcity motivates them for further investigations. The second high figures for boosters are in total negation of the studies articulated by the negative particle no (not) followed with the nouns or verbs denoting the study meaning. A larger number of such occurrences (12) tends to prove that the authors of the aforementioned journals are likely to
“negotiate the status of their information, helping to establish its perceived truth by strategically presenting it as consensually given” [11, 5].
There is a socio-pragmatic explanation for more boosting, too: more research is being conducted now than any time previously and authors strengthen their statement because it is harder to get readers’ attention to the study. Boosters as metadiscourse tools aid in promoting the research and self and as decent researchers they attempt to “persuade readers of the validity of their claims” [21, 61]. Similarly, Koutsantoni argues that writers “in order to achieve publication and solicit acceptance for their claims” opt for one or another metadiscourse item to meet the high expectations of the referees and peer reviewers .
Hedges on the other hand, demonstrate more than half less figures, the evidence that shows significant differences from the number of common boosters. The hedges show the authors’ involvement presenting rather their judgments than facts. The most common hedges account for quite an equal proportion but only can shows the highest number of occurrences. This modal verb expresses the authorial smooth opinion that the research on the matter could have been done so far.
Despite the lower frequency of the hedges compared to that of the boosters, they both are in an effective use to advance a persuasive discourse. The persuasiveness is mainly enhanced by the cluster of both markers balancing the appropriate discourse of adequate commitment and certainty with the necessary extent of subjectivity and speculation. Thus the quantitative analysis indicating the prevalent employment of the boosters over the hedges reflects the state of affairs in part. The qualitative study, which is presented further on in this paper, points to the contextual manipulations and discursive strategies of their use. Salager-Meyer finds the context crucial for interpreting hedges and boosters  because they may acquire some unusual functions while being used in clustered patterns. Yet, it is to note that the choice of metadiscursive means is considerably restricted by the genre norms indispensible for manifesting the appropriate status of knowledge and authorial stance. The genre requirements of research paper writing impose conventionalized norms and constraints that authors have to observe to respond the readers’ requirements. The moves constitute the main part of the overall strategy of writing  where the “Indicating a gap” step seems to have a pertinent position in opening the motivation for the present study [23, 185] and advancing the author’s contribution to the matter considered. The choice of the linguistic features to realizes the rhetorical strategies are of paramount importance to relate the author’s work to other works in the field. To this point, the number of boosters in the abstracts showed comparatively higher figures than in the introductions, this can be explained by the more pragmatic nature of the former. Abstracts today have become important sections accompanying and rendering the main content of articles and, primarily, functioning as persuasive discourses for promoting the research. According to Hyland, abstracts are “generally the readers’ first encounter with a text, and are often the point at which they decide whether to continue and give the accompanying article further attention or to ignore it” [24, 63]. Introductions compared to abstracts negotiate the knowledge in a more descriptive fashion allowing more stipulation or guessing in the analysis of the literature. The authors in the introductions attempt to show more delicacy and consideration in advancing their claims and framing the convincing arguments into less strong metadiscourse.
As we see it, the promotion of the research is mainly reinforced by acknowledging a gap or weaknesses in the previous studies. This step shows what reasons enhance the necessity of the research to proceed. It is in this part that the authorial position seems to be more convincing to argue for attracting the recipients’ attention to the study, like in the following:
But while studies have shown the importance of evaluation in research genres, its role in seemingly more promotional academic genres has been largely neglected (Hyland & Tse, DS, 2009).
Despite prolonged and widespread curiosity concerning the notion of stance, however, together with an interest in the gradual evolution of research genres more generally, very little is known of how it has changed in recent years and whether such changes have occurred uniformly across disciplines. (Hyland & Jiang, WC, 2016).
This is possible by boosters, as the above-given examples show; one of them is largely in largely neglected and very little in very little is known, which amplify the assertive authorial stance. It is remarkable that such confidence seems to be based on the knowledge which the writers have obtained after in-depth analysis of the literature; otherwise this categorical position would not be possible. Additionally, the author presupposes the readers’ equivalent awareness of the previous research and challenges them to get involved in reading the article and its discussion.
Overall, the data show quite a complete typical list of expressions ranging from the strongest to the milder ones, like yet, there is no overall typology; not systematically studied, the study… has been largely neglected; (very) little is known; fewer studies have looked into; the study…is needed; … deserves more attention; etc. On the other hand, the writers revealing adverse or disapproving comments of the background research may diminish ‘unrespectable’ voice through such expressions as relatively overlooked; …should be given more attention; seldom addressed; without a detailed analysis; rather than examine, etc. In the following example the strong criticism articulated by the strong negative no is alleviated by the hedge appear that sounds less direct and leaves some hope for possible counter-claims from the audience. This strategy also creates a climate of cooperation between the counterparts by building the intrigue for feasible discussions with the audience:
In addition, there appears to be no linguistic study of how the discourse structure of texts referred to as research papers may vary across courses in undergraduate or graduate programs. (Samraj, EAP, 2004).
The simultaneous employment of boosters and hedges enables the authors to respond the purpose of general communication, which is creating solidarity and cooperation between people. The academic discourse is not an exception of this rule because the main goal of research paper writing is dissemination of upper-level knowledge in a specific authorial perspective. The writers try to conform to these expectations despite a cautious indicating a gap in the previous studies seems more difficult than in other rhetorical strategies. However, the corpus demonstrates some skillfully hedged discourse of expert writers which can be pedagogically influential for novice researchers, like the following examples:
At present, therefore, our knowledge of RA macro-structures is far from complete. Such studies that have been conducted in this area are limited in scope and scale in that they have generally been based on relatively small datasets in single disciplines in the fields of science and engineering. Yang and Allison’s (2004) analysis of RAs in applied linguistics is one of the few studies conducted in the social sciences/humanities. Another limitation of this small body of research is that many of the papers for analysis dated from the 1980s and 1990s and thus may not reflect current writing practices in the ever-evolving world of academic research and publishing (Atkinson, 1999…). (Lin & Evans, ESP, 2012).
The strong boosters denoting the incompleteness and limitations in the studies are smoothed by hedging devices generally, relatively, and may in order to provide some room for counterclaims and cautiously indicate the weaknesses to correct in the present study, which is intended by the authors. By using the hedges they do not show a complete commitment to the statement and mitigate the directness and categorical tone of the claim. Additionally, they do not attempt to demonstrate their certainty of the facts presented in the propositional content but comment on them giving an opinion.
It should be noted that none of the conclusions drawn in the above studies are about the metadiscourse use in the introductions alone. Moreover, to my knowledge, no study has empirically sought to examine assumptions regarding how and why metadiscourse is constructed differently in the introductions of PhD theses and RAs based on the comparative analysis of both texts. (Kawase, EAP, 2015).
The strong boosting strategy expressed by non, alone and no encompasses with the hedging tactic demonstarted in the items should, seek and to my knowledge which present an authorial evaluative attitude towards the studies limiting the claim to his scope of knowledge and adding a tentative note to the claims. This way the author defends himself from possible objections from readers and attributes the dialogic character to the communication.
In sum, basically, the indicating a gap step implicates marking limitations, shortcomings and other weaknesses in the previous research with a probable strong criticism, which has been shown in the prevailing number of boosters over hedges. This may boost the tense climate in the discourse community and ruin the cooperative and respectful order in communication. To prevent this happen, authors try to protect the authors they refer to, and the readers, and themselves by putting hedges where possible and lessening their commitment and conviction. Subsequently, they save communication in general and make the research developments possible.
Another aspect to mention is the semantic content of the gaps identified that carry a significant piece of information for understanding the strategies employed by the authors. They seem quite traditional which proves that they comply with the genre conventions of research article writing. The deficiencies in the previous studies may concern various reasons why the shortcomings have occurred. For instance, identification of research limitations can be in the domains of studies the researchers have not conducted, some possibly overlooked aspects, limited scope of analysis or even different theoretical and methodological orientations authors may have. The main reasons for indicating gaps are given in the above – cited examples and those that follow below:
Notwithstanding the voluminous literature devoted to research genres, more investigation needs to be conducted to demonstrate the pedagogical significance of studying linguistic features in relation to communicative functions. (Lim, ESP, 2006).
While a wealth of resources is available for teaching research writing of traditional IMRD research papers, instructors have little to draw on when working with graduate students in mathematics. (Cunningham, EAP, 2017).
While the disparity in findings can no doubt be attributed in part to the different theoretical and methodological orientations of the researchers concerned, it nevertheless points to a need for further investigation. (Kaur, JP, 2011).
As the corpus witness, indicating a gap appears common with comparative-contrastive constructions emphasizing a particular metatextual structuring of the move by transitions: however, nevertheless, although, despite, in spite of and while intensifying the disparity between the previous research and the present study in terms of its contributive tone. As a result, such linguistic expressions may amend this presentation with more value.
The preliminary findings lead to the conclusion that boosters and hedges while presenting any limitations of the previous studies project the authorial persuasive voice by strengthening or mitigating the position and, consequently, help build interpersonal relations with readers. The mixing employment of the hedges and boosters creates a less threatening communicative act of criticism toward the previous writers and present readers. Despite the fact that the number of boosters takes over the hedges in the corpus analyzed, the strategy of indicating a gap is very strong in its nature and communicative function, therefore it presupposes high degree of expertise from writers to hold a successful interaction. References
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Данная статья рассматривает бустеры и хеджи как метадискурсивные стратегии письма и как средства персуазивного дискурса в тактике указания на пробелы в предыдущих работах по теме статьи. «Указание на пробелы в предыдущих исследованиях» является стратегическим шагом при анализе литературы в разделах эмпирической статьи Аннотация и Введение (полная структура (Аннотация)– Ведение – Методы – Результаты — Дискуссия). Результаты статистического анализа в исследованных статьях, взятых из ведущих мировых журналов с высоким импакт — фактором показывают, что авторы для указания пробелов в исследованиях в два раза больше используют бустеры по сравнению с хеджами. К тому же, бустеров сравнительно больше в Аннотации, чем во Введении. С другой стороны, квалификативный анализ свидетельствует, что авторы стремятся одновременно использовать оба метадискурсивных элемента в кластерной форме для сохранения баланса уверенности в выдвинутых аргументах и некоторой степени нерешенности и открытости вопроса для дальнейших дискуссий.
Бұл мақалада бустер және хедж сияқты метадискурсивтік жазбаша стратегияларын және персуазивтік дискурс құралдардың нұсқау тактикасында алғашқы жұмыстарында тақырыптың кемшіліктеріне қарайды. «Алдыңғы зерттеу жұмыстарының кемшіліктерін көрсету» әдебиеттің эмпирикалық мақаларының тарауларында аннотация және кіріспе талдау кезінде стратегиялық қадам болып табылады. Статистикалық талдаудың нәтижесінде зерттеу мақалалары алдыңғы қатарлы дүниежүзілік журналдарда жоғарғы импакт-фактор арқылы авторлар кемшіліктерді зерттеуде хеджбен салыстырғанда бустерді екі есе көп пайдаланғандығын көрсетеді. Оның үстіне, бустер кіріспеге қарағанда аннотацияда көбірек. Басқа жағынан алып қарағанда, квалификативті талдауда авторлардың бір мезгілде метадискурсивтік элементті кластерлік формада тепе-теңдік сақтау ұсынылған аргументті және белгілі бір дәрежеде, шешілмеген және ашықтық мәселені одан әрі талқылау үшін қолданылады.