Editing Verb Tenses

The final and most tedious edit is to examine each verb tense in the paper for agreement and consistency. This should be done after all other revisions and edits have been made. While you are conducting this final tense check, do not let yourself pause to consider anything else in the manuscript. Even teachers of English easily overlook inconsistencies in tense when they let their concentration stray while they are doing a tense check.

Present Tenses Simple Present Tense

The most common tense in scientific writing today is the simple present tense. All results, whether done today or years ago, are referred to in present tense. The implication of this use of the simple present tense is that the finding is an alltime truth, which would occur again were the experiment repeated. In contrast, using the past tense for a research result may imply the finding is no longer true.

Check your spreadsheets and photocopied articles to discover when, or if, a verb is used in any form other than the simple present tense. Add these examples to your spreadsheets along with the apparent reason for the unusual tense. Decide to make the simple present tense your friend.

If at first, you don't succeed, try, try again

- German proverb

Present Progressive Tense

Non-English speakers should be especially suspicious of being a friend of the present progressive tense, i.e. forms of the verb 'to be' followed by a verb plus '—ing'. Foreign speakers of English tend to use this tense far more than native speakers of English. Progressive tenses are fine in conversation, narrative writing, and letters, but they are seldom found in professional or scientific writing. Reserve the present progressive tense for those highly unusual times when you must emphasize the event is in progress right now. [Tables 1 & 3.]

Present Perfect Tenses

Present perfect tenses can be not only correct but quite elegant in research reporting. However the perfect tenses are seldom required, and they do require more language knowledge than the simpler tenses. [Tables 3.1 & 3.3.]

Chapter 3 Past Tenses

Past tenses are also commonly used in scientific writing, but only under certain circumstances.

Simple Past Tense

Present past tense is used to refer to what was done during laboratory work. Within a research article, the use of simple past tense to explain procedures is usually the only exception to the use of simple present tense. Other uses are no longer common and you should check your spreadsheets and photocopied articles for more information. [Table 3.3.]

Past Perfect Tenses

Past perfect tenses can also be appropriate, but the simple past tense is safer and often better.

Table 3.3 Examples of Inappropriate Tenses from

Unpublished Papers

Inappropriate Tense

Tense Preferred in


Sodium is reacting with water.

Sodium reacts with water

Sodium reacted with water

Sodium reacts with water

The results are showing that. . .

The results show that. . .

Results showed that. . .

Results show that. . .

Our group has been proposing

We propose that . . .

that. . .

Some researchers are arguing

Some researchers argue

that. . .

that. . .

Past Progressive Tense

Check your spreadsheets and photocopied articles in case you can find an example of this being used well in a recent science article written by a native English speaker. They are rare and usually unnecessary.

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  • vitale
    How to edit for tenses?
    7 years ago

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