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Acknowledging exceptions and limitations

Acknowledging exceptions in your writing (or limitations in a research study) reduces the likelihood of the reader raising those issues to criticise your argument or dispute your findings. There are a variety of expressions you can use to convey precise shades of meaning like qualifiers and quantifiers.

Examples

  • Whilst the findings of the study could be applied in most instances, there were some important exceptions. In particular, it was found that people with food allergies did not benefit from the changes to their diet, and in fact in some cases experienced negative reactions.
  • The argument that sport is good for your health is hard to dispute, with the exception of instances when it leads to serious injury. For the majority of participants adventure sports like rock-climbing are very beneficial; however, for an unlucky minority such sports result in permanent injury or even death.
  • A limitation of the study was the relatively small sample size. For this reason, these findings cannot be generalized to the broader community based on this study alone.

Qualifiers

Examples

Generally,…

In most cases,…

In general…

As a general rule…

Generally speaking…

On average,…

Quantifiers

Quantifiers
Quantity Frequency Probability
All

Every

Most

A lot of

Many

Several

Some
Few

A few

Not many

Hardly any

None
Always

Usually

Sometimes

Occasionally

On occasion

Rarely

Never
Certainly

Definitely

Clearly

Likely

Possibly

Perhaps

Unlikely

Examples

  • A majority of participants reported feeling unwell after the activity.
  • Most of those interviewed stated that…
  • Several participants in the study expressed the view that…
  • Some doctors have argued that the procedure is unnecessary…
  • On at least two occasions doctors were observed to prescribe medication without providing the patient with an explanation of possible side effects.

Using qualifiers and quantifiers to limit the claims you are making

Compare these two examples. Which is more appropriate in academic writing?

Example 1

Chinese are Buddhist. They go to the temple five times a year. Buddhists live simple lives and give money to charity.

Example 2

Many Chinese are Buddhist. Practicing Buddhists go to the temple about five times a year, depending on how devout they are. Generally Buddhists try to live simple lives and to give money to charity when they can afford to.

The second statement is carefully qualified and avoids over-generalisation.

How would you make these sentences more precise. Click the highlighted text to see suggested answers.

  1. Narrative is the structure used for a novel or film.
  2. Historians believe that history is the study of significant past events which have relevance for the present and future.
  3. Knowledge of grammar improves the standard of writing.
  4. Smokers die at a younger age than non-smokers.
While narrative has been the staple of the conventional novel or film, there are, in the last century and this, plenty of examples of different genres which play with – or ignore – narrative.
Historians agree that history includes the study of significant past events, but also that 'significant' is a matter of interpretation. Certain groups, such as indigenous people and women, have traditionally not been included.
An understanding of grammar can have beneficial effects on an author's control of their writing, but understanding the purpose, the genre and the audience is more likely to improve the standard.
On average in the population, smokers tend to die at a younger age than non-smokers due to a range of smoking-related diseases.
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