Tense selection in academic writing

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Every type of an academic paper (essays, theses, and dissertations) might require you to choose different tenses. This article will show you the different tense selections in different parts of an academic paper.

While the following examples are the most common tense selections, there may be exceptions as these are just decisions rather than rules, and you might have to change your tenses based on your topic.

Abstract and summary

Present simple will help you tell what the paper (essay, research paper, etc.) does:

Present perfect will help you present researches from the past that are still relevant:

Introduction

Present simple will help you tell what the paper does and how it is crucial:

Past simple will help you give a historical background:

Theoretical basis

Present simple will help you describe theories and explaining definitions:

Review of related literature and studies

Present perfect will help you describe past researches that are relevant to the present research:

Past simple will help you show the significant actions of previous researchers and the steps they took:

Methodology and results

Present simple will provide explaining a tool’s function which is unchangeable:

Past simple will help you explain experiments that are conducted in the past:

Conclusion and discussion

Present simple will help you interpret your data:

Research limitations

Past simple will help you describe the details regarding your work and its limits:

Recommendations

Modal auxiliary or simple future with hedging language will help what should be the focus of the next studies regarding your topic/thesis statement:

Frequently Asked Questions

The four different past tenses are; simple past tense, past continuous tense, past perfect tense, and past perfect continuous tense. You need to use them effectively when writing an academic paper.

 

Three different perfect tenses include: present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect tenses. All have different place to be used depending on the syntax and context. All of them might be used when writing an essay.

Tenses that are used in academic writing may vary depending on the context, the part of the academic paper, or the level of academic paper itself. In general, there is not a single tense to be used and you just have to choose the most suitable one for that particular part.

Academic essays can definitely include past tense. Especially, these tenses are used in introduction, in research limitations, literature review, and methodology. There is nothing wrong with using past tense in academic writing.

Thank you for reading. If you need further information, feel free to have a look at our essay samples or contact us at live chat.

Ibrahim Akturk
Ibrahim Akturk
Content editor at Tamara Research. Translation major, huge coffee and baking nerd. Addicted to good music and great articles.

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