Understanding Tenses in English

Verb tenses are hard-working elements of the English language, and we use them every day when speaking, writing and reading. But sometimes, understanding exactly how they work can be a little confusing. Here’s a quick guide to help you understand tenses in English grammar.

Verb tenses help us describe when and how different actions take place and different things happened. In some cases, you can use multiple tenses in a single sentence, for example, if you were to say: “I worked there for six years, but now I will be working somewhere else.” In that sentence, you’re utilizing both the simple past tense and the future continuous tense. It may sound confusing at first, but remember, you probably use all of these tenses naturally in your daily speech. Remembering their names is just a matter of practice and memorization.

Present Tense

Present tense, as you may have guessed, refers to things that are happening right now. If someone asks where you live and you reply, “I live in New York City,” you just used present tense. Every tense can take on four forms; the simple, the continuous, the perfect and the perfect continuous. An example of simple present would be your reply, “I live in New York City.” If you were to use present continuous, you might say, “I am living in New York City right now.” If you used present perfect tense, you would say, “I have lived in New York City for several years.” And finally, if you wanted to use present perfect continuous, you could say, “I have been living in New York City for a long time.”

If you sat down to tell a friend about everything you did today, you would probably tell that story in past tense, because you’re talking about events that’ve already happened, and are now in the past. So if you say to your friend, “I jogged past the park,” you’re using past simple tense. If you say, “I was tired,” you’re using past continuous. If you say, “I had only gone a mile,” you’re using past perfect tense. And finally, if you conclude, “I had been awake for hours the night before,” you’re using past perfect continuous.

Future Tense

Finally, when we discuss things that will happen or that we think are going to happen, we utilize future tense. For example, if someone tells you “It will rain this afternoon,” that’s simple future tense. If they say, “It will be raining soon,” that’s future continuous. If they say “It will have rained tonight,” that’s future perfect. And if they say, “It will have been raining for hours,” that is (you guessed it) future perfect continuous.

Using Tenses

You can use different forms of the same tense in a single series of sentences and maintain clarity. But can you use two completely different tenses in the same sentence? The answer is yes. Look again at the example above: “I worked there for six years, but now I will be working somewhere else.” Past tense and future tense blend seamlessly in this case. But in some cases, you want to stick with a single tense. You don’t want to write: “George walked out of his house. He jumps in a cab and will have traveled six miles by noon.” Understanding verb tenses helps you construct sentences that get your point across clearly.

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Effective Writing

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% . . .

Present tense

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 . . .

Future tense

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.

Using abbreviations

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).

Writing numbers

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 . . . " ) .

Capitalizing words

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 ).

Using hyphens

Punctuating text.

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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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.”
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Verb Tenses to Use in a Research Paper

writing a scientific paper past or present tense

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.


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.”


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.”


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.

BioScience Writers LLC

Effective Use of Verb Tense in Scientific Writing

Release Date: March 11, 2019 Category: Scientific Writing Author: Kelsey P., M.S.

In any scientific document, it is the writer’s job to efficiently guide the reader through the information, making the reader’s job easy. To accomplish this goal, proper grammar is critical to make your point clear and avoid misunderstandings. One essential element of grammar is correct verb use. We often find that even the best writers use incorrect verb tenses in scientific writing.

Verbs are words that describe actions within sentences and are crucial for strong and effective writing. The verb tense (primarily past, present, or future) is used by readers to place information relative to time of occurrence. The meaning of a statement can completely change solely based on the verb tense used. For example, the following sentence, which uses present tense, tells the reader that this information is currently accepted as fact. “Antibiotic resistance increases over time.” However, rewriting the sentence in the past tense now implies that this is the result of data collected during a discrete period of time in the past, but may not yet be accepted as a general truth. “Antibiotic resistance increased over time.” Determining the correct verb tense to use can be a challenge in scientific writing, particularly when trying to differentiate previously published results from results that you obtained in your current research. Because different sections of a manuscript are used to deliver different types of information to your reader, specific verb tenses are commonly associated with particular sections of your manuscript, as outlined below.


The present tense is used to describe what is currently accepted as being true because it has been published in the literature. In general, statements that are referenced should be written using present tense.

A poor diet increases the risk of cardiovascular disease… (reference) The p53 tumor suppressor plays a role in… (reference)

Past tense should be used to describe the methods that were used in previous publications as well as previous hypotheses that have since been disproven.

Mouse tumors were extracted… The world was thought to be flat…

Materials and Methods:

Past tense should be used to describe work and procedures done for the present study.

We collected tissue samples from… Transcript levels were measured by RT-PCR…

Past tense should be used to describe the results of work and data that are being presented for the first time in the current document as well as observations and interpretations.

Overall survival was greater in the control group than… Protein levels increased in… Our results provided evidence that…

Present tense should be used to describe data that is shown in figures, graphs, and tables. You may therefore have sentences that combine present and past tense verbs.

Figure 4 indicates that mice treated with drug X survived longer than the control mice.


Present tense should be used to interpret results and to discuss the significance and conclusions of the study.

Our data suggest this pathway may be responsible for…

Past tense should be used to summarize the overall findings from the research.

We discovered a new therapeutic target for…

Future tense should be used to convey perspectives and plans.

In future studies, we will examine the effects of…

The above schema provides a brief description of verb tense usage in the different sections of a scientific publication; however, complex sentences can often be tricky because they may require the use of multiple verb tenses to accurately reflect the material presented. For instance, “In 1865, Dr. Joseph Lister postulated that good aseptic technique decreases the spread of infection.” The different verb tenses are necessary in this sentence because postulated refers to the actions Lister took in 1865 and therefore is in past tense, while decreases is in present tense because it denotes a general known fact, which was derived from Lister’s research.

Overall, when deciding which verb tense to use in your writing, focus on the message that you want to convey to the reader in as clear and concise a manner as possible. Remember to pay attention to the scope and condition of the statement. Most importantly, use verb tenses as you ordinarily would in any other communication.

To summarize, use the past tense to describe what was done: the experiments conducted, the results that you obtained, etc. Use the present tense to discuss general truths and previously reported data, to provide insight, and to discuss conclusions. Lastly, use the future tense for perspectives and to discuss future plans.

Keywords : Verb Tense, Verb, Tense, Editing

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Call For Papers |

What are the tenses used in writing a research paper.

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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.

Literature review

  • 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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Mastering the use of tenses in your research paper 

Mastering the use of tenses in your research paper

Many students and early career researchers find themselves grappling with various aspects of academic writing. One critical aspect is ensuring correct grammar, most importantly the appropriate use of tenses in your research paper. In this article, we explain the basics of using tenses in scientific writing and list best practices for different sections of your academic manuscript. By understanding the role of tenses in your research paper and applying them accurately, you can enhance the clarity and credibility of our research work. 

Understanding the basics: Using tenses in research papers

Tenses in scientific writing serve as valuable tools to indicate the time frame in which certain actions or ideas take place. The simple past tense and simple present tense are the most used tenses in research papers. They are supplemented by the present perfect, past perfect, and occasionally the future tense. Consistency and precision are crucial in academic writing, so let’s into the basics of tenses in your research paper and discuss the recommended tenses for each section.  

The simple past tense: Literature review, methods  

Use this tense in your research paper when talking of or describing specific actions or events that occurred in the past; they should not be linked to the present in the same sentence. The simple past tense is used predominantly in the literature review to talk about existing research on the topic, for example, “Watson and Crick published their landmark paper on the structure of DNA in 1953.” It is also typically used in the methods section to describe the methods used in previous studies; what you did and how you did it. For example, “We selected five samples at random.” This tense in scientific writing can also be used to state facts that were once believed to be true but have since been invalidated, for example, “Bats were thought to be blind.”  

The past perfect tense: Methods, conclusion  

Best used to describe two related events that occurred at different times in the past, this tense is typically used in the methods section, especially when describing earlier stages of the experimental procedure. For example, “By the time the temperature and humidity reached optimal levels, the plants had already begun to revive,” or “Respondents who had been grouped into different control groups were given a placebo instead of the new formulation.” Use the past perfect tense in your research paper to describe research or experiments that may have already been completed at the time of writing the manuscript and in the conclusion to summarize the research findings.  

The simple present tense: Introduction, results, tables and figures   

A researcher or academic writer can use simple present tense in the introduction when stating the objectives of the study, to interpret the results, discuss the significance of the findings or to present conclusions. Use the simple present tense in your research papers when referring to results presented in tables and figures in your writing. For example, “Fig.3 shows that…”. The present tense an also be used to talk about the research paper as a whole, for example, “Section 4.1 discusses…”. 

This tense in scientific writing is also used to state what is generally true and what is unlikely to change. For example, “The Earth revolves around the sun” or “Human babies generally start speaking when they are 2 years old.” This tense works well in the results section , which indicates what one believes to be true and relevant to the present research. For example, “Robinson maintains that soaking seeds in strong acid helps in breaking seed dormancy.”  

The present perfect tense: Introduction, literature review  

The present perfect tense in scientific writing is used to talk about a past event that is linked to the present or to talk about trends or events that have occurred recently. One may need to use this tense in the introduction while providing a background to the study. For example, “The demand for more sophisticated 5G devices has increased significantly over the past few years.” Additionally, the present perfect tense is also used frequently in the literature review sections while referring to previous research that is fairly recent. For example, “Recent experiments on the samples collected have revealed high levels of saline.”  

The future tense: Discussion, conclusions

Use the future tense in your research paper when describing events that are expected to occur in the future; this is not very common in academic writing. Typically, its use is limited to the discussion section toward the end, when one needs to make recommendations or indicate a future course of action based on the research results. It is usually recommended that parts of the conclusion section be written in the future tense. For example, “These research findings will open up new possibilities for the effective use of Epsom salt in agriculture.”  

Understanding and implementing the appropriate use of tenses in different sections of your research paper is essential for effective communication of your ideas. However, remember that the guidelines provided above are not hard and fast rules. That being said, proofread your work carefully and avoid mixing up tenses in a single sentence or paragraph or it could impact readability. By mastering the use of tenses in your research paper, you can ensure clarity, consistency, and accuracy and elevate the quality of your academic writing. 

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Try it for free or upgrade to  Paperpal Prime , which unlocks unlimited access to premium features like academic translation, paraphrasing, contextual synonyms, consistency checks and more. It’s like always having a professional academic editor by your side! Go beyond limitations and experience the future of academic writing.  Get Paperpal Prime now at just US$12 a month!

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University of Tsukuba

Verb Tenses in Scientific Writing

Although the full range of verb tenses appears in scientific writing, the most commonly used tenses are the simple present (essentially, to describe established fact) and the simple past (essentially, to describe what was done in an attempt to establish fact).

Since choice of verb tense can affect nuance (eg, whether the author(s) accepts or rejects a previous claim), authors should take care to use the appropriate tense.

Use Simple Present to refer to:

For example

Use Simple Past to refer to:

For example

Other tenses: Use Present Perfect to refer to:

For example

Other tenses: Use Past Perfect to refer to:

For example

Other tenses: Use Simple Future to refer to:

For example

Verb Tenses in the Different Sections of the Research Paper

Introduction section

For example

Materials and Methods section

For example

Results section

For example

Discussion section

For example

Revise the following sentences for correct verb tense.

for faculty use only



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