Different types of time: Making sense of verb tenses in research writing

DoctoralWriting SIG

This week’s post comes from Cassily Charles who is the Academic Literacy Learning and Numeracy Coordinator for postgraduate students at Charles Sturt University. Here she tackles the tricky subject of tense in research writing.

People often ask about the right verb tenses to use in the thesis or research article – e.g. is it better to write ‘Wang (2011) noted’, ‘Wang (2011) has noted’, or ‘Wang (2011) notes’? Does it make any difference? Should it be consistent in the paragraph / section / chapter?

Experienced research writers, including supervisors, often know instinctively what verb tense will do the job, but don’t always find it easy to explain why. In workshops and discussions with research candidates, I use a simple model which seems to be very helpful: the 3 different types of time in research writing.

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