Research Paper Writing: Favor the Present Tense

Every read a story or paper that was written in a tense or even switched and was confused? Depending upon what tense a writer chooses to write a paper in will decide on whether or not the reader will be able to relate as well as whether or not they will keep reading.

This is a big problem in research paper writing. If a writer writes it in the past tense then the reader will read through it and think “why did I read it?” and “why should I care?” If a reader is questioning why they are reading it, they might not use it in their paper to support their claims or their arguments because they may feel the same way that the writer does.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the present tense is a verb that “expresses action or state in the present time.”

Why the present tense? If something is written in past tense, it tends to just stay there, in the past. With present tense, it moves the story and or paper forward and gets the reader through it quickly and makes them think about what the future of the subject could be. It could become a topic of discussion, or may even be a current topic that is being debated.

So what does that mean when it comes to research papers? If the paper is not moving forward or is not contributing to future research, then the paper will collect dust and be known only to the writer. Research papers are long and full of statistics and research from tests and books. Using present tense verbs helps move the reader through and shows why it is currently important and why it should matter.

When using the present tense, the more action verbs the better. For example, in a research paper talking about speech delay in children, the writer may include words that end in –ing to make the reader feel like they are part of the experiment that might be mentioned.

Another rule of thumb is to use –ed endings as well for present tense. In the above example, the writer could change a past tense verb and make it into a present tense verb to get the reader interested. For example, if they are talking about Jean Paiget’s experiment with the bobo doll, they could say that the children “punched” the doll so the reader can imagine a young child doing so.

Using present tense makes the reader feel like they are part of the action and makes them more interested in the research paper.

Posted by December 3rd, 2014