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Academic Writing
Expressing Opinion
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Modality

Modality is an important technique for the expression of argument and opinion in academic writing. Modality refers to the intermediate choices between yes and no (Halliday, 1985: 86)1. Very few ideas in academia can be stated as ‘fact’ so using modality allows academic writers to express, with various degrees of certainty, ideas that are not fact.

bullet Patients do benefit (Yes)

bullet Patients do not benefit (No)

bullet Patients may benefit (Low certainty)

bullet Patients always benefit (High certainty)

A moderate 'low modality' statement of opinion allows for a more tentative conclusion to be drawn. It also appears to present a reasoned and objective argument because it allows for the possibility of evidence contrary to your claims. In comparison, a 'high modality' opinion can appeal to the emotions and so can be perceived as persuasive and subjective. However, if there is ample evidence to support the argument being presented then high modality is appropriate. High modality language is also used in specific genres for specific purposes such as to make recommendations on future research or problem solutions.

High modality:
Age can never be irrelevant.

Low modality:
It appears likely that age is rarely an irrelevant factor...

 

1 Halliday, M.A.K. (1985) An Introduction to Functional Grammar, Arnold, London.

 



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