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Tense use in essays

To simplify, tenses are used in the following ways:

The present tense is used for:

  • a generalisation
    • in overviews, statements of main points etc.
  • a generally accepted scientific fact
    • eg: "This thesis investigates the second approach."
  • a statement made by you as a writer
    • eg: "Non-standard applications are now emerging."
  • a statement reporting the position of a writer and your support or lack of support for this position
    • eg: "He begins by offering a definition..."

The past tense is used to:

  • report/describe the contents, findings or conclusions of past research. It emphasises the specific nature of the study.
    • eg: "Kendell (3) located the origins of this dispute in the Platonic philosophy of reality residing in universal ideas ..."

The present perfect tense is used to:

  • indicate that research in the area is still continuing
    • eg: "Since the 17th century, the dominant tradition in medicine has been the approach introduced by ..."
  • generalise about past literature
    • eg: "Families have been studied by means of group interview"
  • present a view using an information prominent citation
    • eg: "Studies which have explored Freud's ambivalent attitude towards his Jewishness include ..."
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