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How to Write a Research Paper
Writing a research paper is a bit more difficult that a standard high school essay. You need to site sources, use academic data and show scientific examples. Before beginning, you’ll need guidelines for how to write a research paper.
Start the Research Process
Before you begin writing the research paper, you must do your research. It is important that you understand the subject matter, formulate the ideas of your paper, create your thesis statement and learn how to speak about your given topic in an authoritative manner. You’ll be looking through online databases, encyclopedias, almanacs, periodicals, books, newspapers, government publications, reports, guides and scholarly resources. Take notes as you discover new information about your given topic. Also keep track of the references you use so you can build your bibliography later and cite your resources.
Develop Your Thesis Statement
When organizing your research paper, the thesis statement is where you explain to your readers what they can expect, present your claims, answer any questions that you were asked or explain your interpretation of the subject matter you’re researching. Therefore, the thesis statement must be strong and easy to understand. Your thesis statement must also be precise. It should answer the question you were assigned, and there should be an opportunity for your position to be opposed or disputed. The body of your manuscript should support your thesis, and it should be more than a generic fact.
Create an Outline
Many professors require outlines during the research paper writing process. You’ll find that they want outlines set up with a title page, abstract, introduction, research paper body and reference section. The title page is typically made up of the student’s name, the name of the college, the name of the class and the date of the paper. The abstract is a summary of the paper. An introduction typically consists of one or two pages and comments on the subject matter of the research paper. In the body of the research paper, you’ll be breaking it down into materials and methods, results and discussions. Your references are in your bibliography. Use a research paper example to help you with your outline if necessary.
Organize Your Notes
When writing your first draft, you’re going to have to work on organizing your notes first. During this process, you’ll be deciding which references you’ll be putting in your bibliography and which will work best as in-text citations. You’ll be working on this more as you develop your working drafts and look at more white paper examples to help guide you through the process.
Write Your Final Draft
After you’ve written a first and second draft and received corrections from your professor, it’s time to write your final copy. By now, you should have seen an example of a research paper layout and know how to put your paper together. You’ll have your title page, abstract, introduction, thesis statement, in-text citations, footnotes and bibliography complete. Be sure to check with your professor to ensure if you’re writing in APA style, or if you’re using another style guide.
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Verb Tenses to Use in a Research Paper
Why Using the Correct Verb Tense is Important
When writing an academic paper, writers should follow the accepted grammar and style conventions: not only to abide by the institutional and domain standards, but to communicate clearly to readers what was studied, when it took place, and from what perspective you are discussing your research (and that of others) in your paper. One crucial writing element that you must consider when composing your paper is verb tense . Which tense you use will determine the flow and coherency of your paper.
You might have found yourself thinking along these lines: “Everything in this study has already been completed, so shouldn’t I simply write everything in the simple past tense?”
The answer is no–at least not in a strict sense. The verb tense you use for a given sentence or phrase depends on your position as the author to the material you are discussing. As the author, you look at each element mentioned in your text from a distance in terms of your role: as a participant, critic, or messenger, among others. You must also take into account the chronological reasons for choosing between present and past tenses in a given instance.
Knowing which tense to use requires both knowledge of the exact guidelines set out for you in whichever formatting style you are following ( APA , AMA , etc.), as well as some discretion and savvy in choosing the tense that makes the most sense for a given statement in the paper.
While new authors should certainly familiarize themselves with the specific guidelines of the formatting style they are applying, this article will focus on the most common rules of verb tense applied to research papers in journals and at academic institutions, reflecting basic verb usage rules in academic English and encompassing all formatting styles.
Bear in mind that these grammar and verb-tense issues will largely be corrected by any competent proofreading service or research paper editing service , and thus professional revision of all academic documents is recommended before submission to journals or conferences.
Rules for Present, Past, and Perfect Tense Verbs
First, there are three basic verb tenses used in research papers: present (simple present), simple past , and present perfect . We will talk about how research paper sections determine verb tense in a minute, but first, let’s review when each tense should be used in general throughout the paper.
PRESENT TENSE VERBS
The present tense is used to talk about general facts, discuss current meanings and implications, and suggest future applications .
General facts are constant and do not change throughout time (the ultimate evolution of scientific progress notwithstanding). Always use the present when discussing general scientific facts.
Example: “Insulin and glucagon regulates blood glucose levels.”
Implications are closely related to general facts and thus the same rule is applied.
Example: “An elevated glucose level indicates a lack of glucagon hormones in the pancreas.”
Further research is called for or stressed as important through a phrase in the present tense.
Example: “Further studies about glucagon receptors are needed.”
SIMPLE PAST TENSE VERBS
The simple past is generally used to discuss events that have been c ompleted in the past at some distinct time and/or place . It is most often applied to discrete events such as studies, experiments, or observed phenomena.
Example: “Scientists in Wales discovered a new enzyme in the liver.” Example: “Protocol X was used to analyze the data.”
PRESENT PERFECT TENSE VERBS
The present perfect tense (or simply “perfect tense”) is used in research papers to refer to events or actions that have taken place at some unidentified time in the past or have started but are still ongoing or only recently completed . It often establishes a general background in the Introduction section , adding a backdrop on which you can explain the motivations for and purpose of your study.
Note that it is the least frequently used tense in most research papers and should not be over-employed–focus more on detailed actions by using the simple past.
Example: “Many studies have focused on glucagon as an important regulating hormone.” Example: “Until recently, researchers have analyzed this kind of data using Chi-Square Statistics.” Example: “Efforts have been made to understand more about this process.” (passive)
Appropriate Verb Tenses by Research Paper Section
It bears repeating that the “best” tense to use is the one that is recommended (or demanded) by whichever formatting manual you are using. However, there is a high degree of continuity between the common styles, and the following rules for usage in each section will likely apply to your research paper no matter where it will be published.
Abstract verb tenses
In general, use the simple past for the abstract of your manuscript; for a concise introductory sentence, use the present perfect. To establish a need for your study—–for instance, by explaining the current circumstances of the world or the specific area in which you are working—–you can also use the present tense.
Example of introductory sentence (present perfect): “Recent studies of glucagon and insulin production have led to breakthroughs in medicine.” Example of establishing background/circumstances/purpose (present): “Diabetes accounts for a higher number of deaths in the US than previously calculated.”
For general statements and facts, the paper itself, or analysis of findings, use the present tense.
Example of a statement of fact: “In the US, diabetes is the most common endocrine disease.”
If you are stating a fact or finding from an earlier specified time or place, use the simple past:
Example: “In 2016, diabetes was the most common endocrine disease.” Have a look at our more in-depth instruction to writing an abstract for a research paper or at these do’s and don’ts of abstract writing if you need additional input.
Introduction section verb tenses
Use a mixture of present and past tense in the introduction section .
The present tense is applied when discussing something that is always true; the simple past tense is used for earlier research efforts, either your own or those reported by another group.
Example of earlier research efforts (simple past): “This same research team discovered a similar enzyme in their 2012 study.”
If the time or location of the demonstration is unknown or not important, use the present perfect.
Example: “Prior research has indicated a correlation between X and Y.”
For the concluding statements of your introduction, use the simple past or present perfect.
Example of concluding statement (simple past): “The CalTech glucagon studies were inconclusive.” Example of concluding statement (present perfect): “Prior research in this area has been inconclusive.”
Use the past perfect when you talk about something that happened or was found to be the case in the past, but which has since been revised. Example of revised information (past perfect): “The Dublonsky study had determined that X was Y, but a 2012 study found this to be incorrect.”
Literature review verb tenses
Knowing which tenses to use for a literature review (either as part of a research paper or as a stand-alone article) can be a bit tricky, as your usage depends both on which style manual you are using (APA, AMA, MLA , or others) and on how you are discussing the literature.
The simple past is usually applied when using the researcher’s name as the subject of the sentence and discussing the methods or results of that study itself
Example of describing researcher’s actions: “Pearson (1997) discovered a new enzyme using similar methods.”
Other verbs commonly found in this usage context: investigated, compared, studied, analyzed, investigated, found, confirmed, performed, etc.
When giving your opinion on another researcher’s work or bringing up the results, discussion, and conclusions they make in their work, use the present tense.
Example of discussing another’s work: “Ryuku (2005) concludes that there are no additional enzymes present in the liver, a finding this current study directly refutes.” Other verbs commonly found in this usage context: stresses, advocates, remarks, argues, claims, posits. etc.
Methods section verb tenses
The Methods section fairly clearly delineates between sections written in past and those written in present tense.
Use the simple past tense to talk about what you did. (Note that you will generally find the passive voice used when describing the actions of the researchers. This puts more focus on the actions being completed and less on the agents completing the action. Passive voice has become the general standard for research papers in recent decades, but it is okay to mix passive and active voice in order to make your paper clearer and more readable.)
Example of methods of study: “A glucose molecule was added to the mixture to see how the peptide would respond.” Example of methods of analysis: “The results were analyzed using Bayesian inference.”
Use the present tense to refer to or explain diagrams, figures, tables, and charts.
Example: “Table 5 shows the results of this first isolated test.” Example: “The results of this first isolated test are displayed in Table 5.”
Results section verb tenses
The verb tense rules for the Results section are quite similar to those applied to the Methods section.
Use the past tense to discuss actual results.
Example: “The addition of 0.02 μg of glycogen activated receptor cells.” Example: “Receptor cells were activated by the addition of 0.02 μg of glycogen.”
Use the simple present tense to explain diagrams/figures/tables. Again, sentences may use both the active and passive voice.
Discussion section verb tenses
The Discussion section consists of an analysis of the findings and a kind of translation of the meanings and implications of these findings.
Use the simple past to summarize your own findings.
Example of summarizing own findings: “The experiment yielded a number of results associated with the processing of glucose.”
Use the present tense to interpret and discuss the significance of your findings.
Example: “[This study confirms that] synthetic glucagon is two-thirds as effective at decreasing fatty acid synthesis.”
Conclusions and further work
The conclusion and call for further work to be done are either provided in the last sentence or two of your paper or in a separate (but short) section at the end of the main text (check the target journal’s author instructions to be sure you follow the journal style) and summarize or emphasize the new insights your work offers.
Use the present perfect tense to clarify that your statements still hold true at the time of reading.
Example: “Results from this study have led to a deeper understanding about how different peptides interact in this enzyme.”
Use the present tense to apply findings, state implications, and suggest further research.
Example of wider implications: “This study confirms that endogenous glucagon is even more essential in metabolism than previously thought.”
When discussing further research that is either needed or intended to be carried out, the future or present tense (or subjunctive mood) can also be used, in addition to the present tense passive voice.
Example of call for future research: “Further clinical studies are needed/will be needed/must be carried out/should be carried out to isolate the cause of this reaction.”
Follow these general rules about tenses and your paper will be clearer, more chronologically correct, and generally easier to read—meaning the important implications of your study will be more easily understood. You can always go back and edit verb tenses—the more you practice, and the more papers you read, the easier it will be to identify which tense should be used for which kind of information.
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To construct sentences that reflect your ideas, focus these sentences appropriately. Express one idea per sentence. Use your current topic — that is, what you are writing about — as the grammatical subject of your sentence (see Verbs: Choosing between active and passive voice ). When writing a complex sentence (a sentence that includes several clauses), place the main idea in the main clause rather than a subordinate clause. In particular, focus on the phenomenon at hand, not on the fact that you observed it.
Constructing your sentences logically is a good start, but it may not be enough. To ensure they are readable, make sure your sentences do not tax readers' short-term memory by obliging these readers to remember long pieces of text before knowing what to do with them. In other words, keep together what goes together. Then, work on conciseness: See whether you can replace long phrases with shorter ones or eliminate words without loss of clarity or accuracy.
The following screens cover the drafting process in more detail. Specifically, they discuss how to use verbs effectively and how to take care of your text's mechanics.
Shutterstock. Much of the strength of a clause comes from its verb. Therefore, to express your ideas accurately, choose an appropriate verb and use it well. In particular, use it in the right tense, choose carefully between active and passive voice, and avoid dangling verb forms.
Verbs are for describing actions, states, or occurrences. To give a clause its full strength and keep it short, do not bury the action, state, or occurrence in a noun (typically combined with a weak verb), as in "The catalyst produced a significant increase in conversion rate." Instead write, "The catalyst increased the conversion rate significantly." The examples below show how an action, state, or occurrence can be moved from a noun back to a verb.
Using the right tense
In your scientific paper, use verb tenses (past, present, and future) exactly as you would in ordinary writing. Use the past tense to report what happened in the past: what you did, what someone reported, what happened in an experiment, and so on. Use the present tense to express general truths, such as conclusions (drawn by you or by others) and atemporal facts (including information about what the paper does or covers). Reserve the future tense for perspectives: what you will do in the coming months or years. Typically, most of your sentences will be in the past tense, some will be in the present tense, and very few, if any, will be in the future tense.
Work done We collected blood samples from . . . Groves et al. determined the growth rate of . . . Consequently, astronomers decided to rename . . . Work reported Jankowsky reported a similar growth rate . . . In 2009, Chu published an alternative method to . . . Irarrázaval observed the opposite behavior in . . . Observations The mice in Group A developed , on average, twice as much . . . The number of defects increased sharply . . . The conversion rate was close to 95% . . .
General truths Microbes in the human gut have a profound influence on . . . The Reynolds number provides a measure of . . . Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease . . . Atemporal facts This paper presents the results of . . . Section 3.1 explains the difference between . . . Behbood's 1969 paper provides a framework for . . .
Perspectives In a follow-up experiment, we will study the role of . . . The influence of temperature will be the object of future research . . .
Note the difference in scope between a statement in the past tense and the same statement in the present tense: "The temperature increased linearly over time" refers to a specific experiment, whereas "The temperature increases linearly over time" generalizes the experimental observation, suggesting that the temperature always increases linearly over time in such circumstances.
In complex sentences, you may have to combine two different tenses — for example, "In 1905, Albert Einstein postulated that the speed of light is constant . . . . " In this sentence, postulated refers to something that happened in the past (in 1905) and is therefore in the past tense, whereas is expresses a general truth and is in the present tense.
Choosing between active and passive voice
In English, verbs can express an action in one of two voices. The active voice focuses on the agent: "John measured the temperature." (Here, the agent — John — is the grammatical subject of the sentence.) In contrast, the passive voice focuses on the object that is acted upon: "The temperature was measured by John." (Here, the temperature, not John, is the grammatical subject of the sentence.)
To choose between active and passive voice, consider above all what you are discussing (your topic) and place it in the subject position. For example, should you write "The preprocessor sorts the two arrays" or "The two arrays are sorted by the preprocessor"? If you are discussing the preprocessor, the first sentence is the better option. In contrast, if you are discussing the arrays, the second sentence is better. If you are unsure what you are discussing, consider the surrounding sentences: Are they about the preprocessor or the two arrays?
The desire to be objective in scientific writing has led to an overuse of the passive voice, often accompanied by the exclusion of agents: "The temperature was measured " (with the verb at the end of the sentence). Admittedly, the agent is often irrelevant: No matter who measured the temperature, we would expect its value to be the same. However, a systematic preference for the passive voice is by no means optimal, for at least two reasons.
For one, sentences written in the passive voice are often less interesting or more difficult to read than those written in the active voice. A verb in the active voice does not require a person as the agent; an inanimate object is often appropriate. For example, the rather uninteresting sentence "The temperature was measured . . . " may be replaced by the more interesting "The measured temperature of 253°C suggests a secondary reaction in . . . ." In the second sentence, the subject is still temperature (so the focus remains the same), but the verb suggests is in the active voice. Similarly, the hard-to-read sentence "In this section, a discussion of the influence of the recirculating-water temperature on the conversion rate of . . . is presented " (long subject, verb at the end) can be turned into "This section discusses the influence of . . . . " The subject is now section , which is what this sentence is really about, yet the focus on the discussion has been maintained through the active-voice verb discusses .
As a second argument against a systematic preference for the passive voice, readers sometimes need people to be mentioned. A sentence such as "The temperature is believed to be the cause for . . . " is ambiguous. Readers will want to know who believes this — the authors of the paper, or the scientific community as a whole? To clarify the sentence, use the active voice and set the appropriate people as the subject, in either the third or the first person, as in the examples below.
Biologists believe the temperature to be . . . Keustermans et al. (1997) believe the temperature to be . . . The authors believe the temperature to be . . . We believe the temperature to be . . .
Avoiding dangling verb forms
A verb form needs a subject, either expressed or implied. When the verb is in a non-finite form, such as an infinitive ( to do ) or a participle ( doing ), its subject is implied to be the subject of the clause, or sometimes the closest noun phrase. In such cases, construct your sentences carefully to avoid suggesting nonsense. Consider the following two examples.
To dissect its brain, the affected fly was mounted on a . . . After aging for 72 hours at 50°C, we observed a shift in . . .
Here, the first sentence implies that the affected fly dissected its own brain, and the second implies that the authors of the paper needed to age for 72 hours at 50°C in order to observe the shift. To restore the intended meaning while keeping the infinitive to dissect or the participle aging , change the subject of each sentence as appropriate:
To dissect its brain, we mounted the affected fly on a . . . After aging for 72 hours at 50°C, the samples exhibited a shift in . . .
Alternatively, you can change or remove the infinitive or participle to restore the intended meaning:
To have its brain dissected , the affected fly was mounted on a . . . After the samples aged for 72 hours at 50°C, we observed a shift in . . .
In communication, every detail counts. Although your focus should be on conveying your message through an appropriate structure at all levels, you should also save some time to attend to the more mechanical aspects of writing in English, such as using abbreviations, writing numbers, capitalizing words, using hyphens when needed, and punctuating your text correctly.
Beware of overusing abbreviations, especially acronyms — such as GNP for gold nanoparticles . Abbreviations help keep a text concise, but they can also render it cryptic. Many acronyms also have several possible extensions ( GNP also stands for gross national product ).
Write acronyms (and only acronyms) in all uppercase ( GNP , not gnp ).
Introduce acronyms systematically the first time they are used in a document. First write the full expression, then provide the acronym in parentheses. In the full expression, and unless the journal to which you submit your paper uses a different convention, capitalize the letters that form the acronym: "we prepared Gold NanoParticles (GNP) by . . . " These capitals help readers quickly recognize what the acronym designates.
- Do not use capitals in the full expression when you are not introducing an acronym: "we prepared gold nanoparticles by… "
- As a more general rule, use first what readers know or can understand best, then put in parentheses what may be new to them. If the acronym is better known than the full expression, as may be the case for techniques such as SEM or projects such as FALCON, consider placing the acronym first: "The FALCON (Fission-Activated Laser Concept) program at…"
- In the rare case that an acronym is commonly known, you might not need to introduce it. One example is DNA in the life sciences. When in doubt, however, introduce the acronym.
In papers, consider the abstract as a stand-alone document. Therefore, if you use an acronym in both the abstract and the corresponding full paper, introduce that acronym twice: the first time you use it in the abstract and the first time you use it in the full paper. However, if you find that you use an acronym only once or twice after introducing it in your abstract, the benefit of it is limited — consider avoiding the acronym and using the full expression each time (unless you think some readers know the acronym better than the full expression).
In general, write single-digit numbers (zero to nine) in words, as in three hours , and multidigit numbers (10 and above) in numerals, as in 24 hours . This rule has many exceptions, but most of them are reasonably intuitive, as shown hereafter.
Use numerals for numbers from zero to nine
- when using them with abbreviated units ( 3 mV );
- in dates and times ( 3 October , 3 pm );
- to identify figures and other items ( Figure 3 );
- for consistency when these numbers are mixed with larger numbers ( series of 3, 7, and 24 experiments ).
Use words for numbers above 10 if these numbers come at the beginning of a sentence or heading ("Two thousand eight was a challenging year for . . . "). As an alternative, rephrase the sentence to avoid this issue altogether ("The year 2008 was challenging for . . . " ) .
Capitals are often overused. In English, use initial capitals
- at beginnings: the start of a sentence, of a heading, etc.;
- for proper nouns, including nouns describing groups (compare physics and the Physics Department );
- for items identified by their number (compare in the next figure and in Figure 2 ), unless the journal to which you submit your paper uses a different convention;
- for specific words: names of days ( Monday ) and months ( April ), adjectives of nationality ( Algerian ), etc.
In contrast, do not use initial capitals for common nouns: Resist the temptation to glorify a concept, technique, or compound with capitals. For example, write finite-element method (not Finite-Element Method ), mass spectrometry (not Mass Spectrometry ), carbon dioxide (not Carbon Dioxide ), and so on, unless you are introducing an acronym (see Mechanics: Using abbreviations ).
Punctuation has many rules in English; here are three that are often a challenge for non-native speakers.
As a rule, insert a comma between the subject of the main clause and whatever comes in front of it, no matter how short, as in "Surprisingly, the temperature did not increase." This comma is not always required, but it often helps and never hurts the meaning of a sentence, so it is good practice.
In series of three or more items, separate items with commas ( red, white, and blue ; yesterday, today, or tomorrow ). Do not use a comma for a series of two items ( black and white ).
In displayed lists, use the same punctuation as you would in normal text (but consider dropping the and ).
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Writing about your research: verb tense.
Consistency of verb tense helps ensure smooth expression in your writing. The practice of the discipline for which you write typically determines which verb tenses to use in various parts of a scientific document. In general, however, the following guidelines may help you know when to use past and present tense. If you have questions about tense or other writing concerns specific to your discipline, check with your adviser.
Use Past Tense…
To describe your methodology and report your results. At the time you are writing your report, thesis, dissertation or article, you have already completed your study, so you should use past tense in your methodology section to record what you did, and in your results section to report what you found.
- We hypothesized that adults would remember more items than children.
- We extracted tannins from the leaves by bringing them to a boil in 50% methanol.
- In experiment 2, response varied .
When referring to the work of previous researchers . When citing previous research in your article, use past tense. Whatever a previous researcher said, did or wrote happened at some specific, definite time in the past and is not still being done. Results that were relevant only in the past or to a particular study and have not yet been generally accepted as fact also should be expressed in past tense:
To describe a fact, law or finding that is no longer considered valid and relevant.
Use Present Tense. . .
To express findings that continue to be true . Use present tense to express general truths or facts or conclusions supported by research results that are unlikely to change—in other words, something that is believed to be always true.
To refer to the article, thesis or dissertation itself.
To discuss your findings and present your conclusions .
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 5th Ed. The Comprehensive Guide to Writing in the Health Sciences , University of Toronto.
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- Title, Abstract & keywords
Q: Which tense should be used in the abstract of a paper?
Asked by Scherezade Mansukhani on 12 Jun, 2019
While writing your abstract, you can use several tenses depending on the subject of your sentence. You can keep in mind the general rules regarding tense usage while you write your Abstract:
- Use present tense while stating general facts
- Use past tense when writing about prior research
- Use past tense when stating results or observations
- Use present tense when stating the conclusion or interpretations
- Use present tense when referring to your study/paper
You can refer these articles to better understand how you should use tense in scientific writing:
- INFOGRAPHIC: The secret to using tenses in scientific writing
- Using past and present tenses in research writing
- Getting the tenses right: Materials and methods section
- Is it acceptable to use first person pronouns in scientific writing?
Answered by Editage Insights on 18 Jun, 2019
- Upvote this Answer
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How to Use Tenses within Scientific Writing
Written by: Chloe Collier
One’s tense will vary depending on what one is trying to convey within their paper or section of their paper. For example, the tense may change between the methods section and the discussion section.
Abstract --> Past tense
- The abstract is usually in the past tense due to it showing what has already been studied.
Example: “This study was conducted at the Iyarina Field School, and within the indigenous Waorani community within Yasuni National Park region.”
Introduction --> Present tense
- Example: “ Clidemia heterophylla and Piperaceae musteum are both plants with ant domata, meaning that there is an ant mutualism which protects them from a higher level of herbivory.”
Methods --> Past tense
- In the methods section one would use past tense due to what they have done was in the past.
- It has been debated whether one should use active or passive voice. The scientific journal Nature states that one should use active voice as to convey the concepts more directly.
- Example: “In the geographic areas selected for the study, ten random focal plants were selected as points for the study.”
Results --> Past tense
- Example: “We observed that there was no significant statistical difference in herbivory on Piperaceae between the two locations, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador (01° 10’ 11, 13”S and 77° 10’ 01. 47 NW) and Iyarina Field School, Ecuador (01° 02’ 35.2” S and 77° 43’ 02. 45” W), with the one exception being that there was found to be a statistical significance in the number count within a one-meter radius of Piperaceae musteum (Piperaceae).”
Discussion --> Present tense and past tense
- Example: “Symbiotic ant mutualistic relationships within species will defend their host plant since the plant provides them with food. In the case of Melastomataceae, they have swellings at the base of their petioles that house the ants and aid to protect them from herbivores.”
- One would use past tense to summarize one’s results
- Example: “In the future to further this experiment, we would expand this project and expand our sample size in order to have a more solid base for our findings.”
- Fri. Mar 3rd, 2023
What are the tenses used in writing a research paper?
By ME PubManu Team
While writing a research paper, one should ensure the paper is clear, precise, and brief. It lets the audience understand the paper without any effort.
Using the right tense
The tenses used in a scientific paper should be exactly as in ordinary writing.
Past tense is used to report the happenings of the past, such as the type of study conducted, the experiments carried out, and so on.
Present tense is used while writing the introduction and conclusions.
Future tense is not used as much as the other tenses. It is used while writing the future recommendation for an article or any roadmaps.
Appropriate Verb Tenses in Various Research Paper Sections
The proper usage of tenses actually depends on the type of content of the subject. It also depends on the Journal’s guidelines where it is clearly mentioned about the way a paper should be written. The manuscript is generally divided into sections that are discussed below. The guideline mentions about the content that should be written in each of the section.
- It is of two types- structured and unstructured. In structured abstract, the introduction is written in present tense, methodology and results in past tense and the conclusion in the present tense. The unstructured abstract is not divided into different sections as in structured abstract but the usage of tenses is similar.
- It includes both the present and past tense.
- Present tense should be used when discussing something always true, while the simple past tense should be used when discussing earlier research efforts.
- When writing a literature review (whether for a research paper or as an independent article), it is crucial to know how to use tenses based on the style manual (APA, AMA, MLA, etc.).
- Research methods or results are discussed using the simple past when the researcher’s name is used as the subject.
- Present tense is used when commenting on a researcher’s work, discussing their results, and drawing conclusions.
- Simple past should be used in this section as here you discuss the work/experiments that you have done.
- Present tense should be used to refer to any tables, figures, or illustrations.
- The results follow a similar verb tense rule as the methods section.
- Past tense should be used.
- Simple present tense should be used to explain diagrams/figures/tables.
- Here the findings are analyzed and interpreted along with their implications.
- Simple past should be used to summarize one’s findings.
- Present tense should be used to interpret and discuss the important findings.
- It is usually written at the end of the manuscript after the discussion section.
- Present perfect tense should be used.
- Present tense should be used to state the findings and inferences.
These general rules about tenses should be followed to make your paper more transparent, chronologically correct, and easier to read.
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Grammar: Verb Tenses
- Main Parts of Speech
- Sentence Structure and Types of Sentences
- Run-On Sentences and Sentence Fragments
- Parallel Construction
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Most Common Verb Tenses in Academic Writing
Apa style guidelines on verb tense, verb tense guidelines when referring to the document itself, simple past versus the present perfect, summary of english verb tenses, verbs video playlist, related resources, knowledge check: verb tenses.
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- Verb Forms: "-ing," Infinitives, and Past Participles
- Subject-Verb Agreement
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According to corpus research, in academic writing, the three tenses used the most often are the simple present , the simple past , and the present perfect (Biber et al., 1999; Caplan, 2012). The next most common tense for capstone writers is the future ; the doctoral study/dissertation proposal at Walden is written in this tense for a study that will be conducted in the future.
Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of written and spoken English . Pearson. https://doi.org/10.1162/089120101300346831
Caplan, N. A. (2012). Grammar choices for graduate and professional writers . University of Michigan Press.
Simple present: Use the simple present to describe a general truth or a habitual action. This tense indicates that the statement is generally true in the past, present, and future.
- Example: The hospital admits patients whether or not they have proof of insurance.
Simple past : Use the simple past tense to describe a completed action that took place at a specific point in the past (e.g., last year, 1 hour ago, last Sunday). In the example below, the specific point of time in the past is 1998.
- Example: Zimbardo (1998) researched many aspects of social psychology.
Present perfect: Use the present perfect to indicate an action that occurred at a nonspecific time in the past. This action has relevance in the present. The present perfect is also sometimes used to introduce background information in a paragraph. After the first sentence, the tense shifts to the simple past.
- Example: Numerous researchers have used this method.
- Example: Many researchers have studied how small business owners can be successful beyond the initial few years in business. They found common themes among the small business owners.
Future: Use the future to describe an action that will take place at a particular point in the future (at Walden, this is used especially when writing a proposal for a doctoral capstone study).
- Example: I will conduct semistructured interviews.
Keep in mind that verb tenses should be adjusted after the proposal after the research has been completed. See this blog post about Revising the Proposal for the Final Capstone Document for more information.
APA calls for consistency and accuracy in verb tense usage (see APA 7, Section 4.12 and Table 4.1). In other words, avoid unnecessary shifts in verb tense within a paragraph or in adjacent paragraphs to help ensure smooth expression.
- Use the past tense (e.g., researchers presented ) or the present perfect (e.g., researchers have presented ) for the literature review and the description of the procedure if discussing past events.
- Use the past tense to describe the results (e.g., test scores improved significantly).
- Use the present tense to discuss implications of the results and present conclusions (e.g., the results of the study show …).
When explaining what an author or researcher wrote or did, use the past tense.
- Patterson (2012) presented, found, stated, discovered…
However, there can be a shift to the present tense if the research findings still hold true:
- King (2010) found that revising a document three times improves the final grade.
- Smith (2016) discovered that the treatment is effective.
To preview what is coming in the document or to explain what is happening at that moment in the document, use the present or future tense:
- In this study, I will describe …
- In this study, I describe …
- In the next chapter, I will discuss …
- In the next chapter, I discuss …
To refer back to information already covered, such as summaries of discussions that have already taken place or conclusions to chapters/sections, use the past tense:
- Chapter 1 contained my original discussion of the research questions.
- In summary, in this section, I presented information on…
Rules for the use of the present perfect differ slightly in British and American English. Researchers have also found that among American English writers, sometimes individual preferences dictate whether the simple past or the present perfect is used. In other words, one American English writer may choose the simple past in a place where another American English writer may choose the present perfect.
Keep in mind, however, that the simple past is used for a completed action. It often is used with signal words or phrases such as "yesterday," "last week," "1 year ago," or "in 2015" to indicate the specific time in the past when the action took place.
- I went to China in 2010 .
- He completed the employee performance reviews last month .
The present perfect focuses more on an action that occurred without focusing on the specific time it happened. Note that the specific time is not given, just that the action has occurred.
- I have travelled to China.
The present perfect focuses more on the result of the action.
- He has completed the employee performance reviews.
The present perfect is often used with signal words such as "since," "already," "just," "until now," "(not) yet," "so far," "ever," "lately," or "recently."
- I have already travelled to China.
- He has recently completed the employee performance reviews.
- Researchers have used this method since it was developed.
The 12 main tenses:
- Simple present : She writes every day.
- Present progressive: She is writing right now.
- Simple past : She wrote last night.
- Past progressive: She was writing when he called.
- Simple future : She will write tomorrow.
- Future progressive: She will be writing when you arrive.
- Present perfect : She has written Chapter 1.
- Present perfect progressive: She has been writing for 2 hours.
- Past perfect: She had written Chapter 3 before she started Chapter 4.
- Past perfect progressive: She had been writing for 2 hours before her friends arrived.
- Future perfect: She will have written Chapter 4 before she writes Chapter 5.
- Future perfect progressive: She will have been writing for 2 hours by the time her friends come over.
Zero conditional (general truths/general habits).
- Example: If I have time, I write every day.
First conditional (possible or likely things in the future).
- Example: If I have time, I will write every day.
Second conditional (impossible things in the present/unlikely in the future).
- Example : If I had time, I would write every day.
Third conditional (things that did not happen in the past and their imaginary results)
- Example : If I had had time, I would have written every day.
Subjunctive : This form is sometimes used in that -clauses that are the object of certain verbs or follow certain adjectives. The form of the subjective is the simple form of the verb. It is the same for all persons and number.
- Example : I recommend that he study every day.
- Example: It is important that everyone set a writing schedule.
Note that these videos were created while APA 6 was the style guide edition in use. There may be some examples of writing that have not been updated to APA 7 guidelines.
- Grammar for Academic Writers: Common Verb Tenses in Academic Writing (video transcript)
- Grammar for Academic Writers: Verb Tense Consistency (video transcript)
- Grammar for Academic Writers: Advanced Subject–Verb Agreement (video transcript)
- Mastering the Mechanics: Helping Verbs (video transcript)
- Mastering the Mechanics: Past Tense (video transcript)
- Mastering the Mechanics: Present Tense (video transcript)
- Mastering the Mechanics: Future Tense (video transcript)
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