Dissertation tenses: What tenses should I use for my academic writing?

Are you stuck on tenses in academic writing? If you are starting to plan your dissertation writing then one of the questions you may be asking is  “What tenses should I use for my dissertation?”. This page offers you my personal suggestions concerning dissertation tenses, these are not absolute rules but they are the result of both experience as an English teacher and academic writer combined with my own research.

The important thing is that you apply tenses consistently across the chapters of your dissertation or thesis. I hope you find this useful. You will see that it is not as simple as one tense for each chapter but you need to consider the purpose of each sentence/ paragraph.

Stating factsPresent“There is no current legislation which enables teachers…”
Stating the purpose of the researchPast“The purpose of the research was to …”
Explaining the value/ contribution of the researchModal verbs – will, would, could, should, can, may, might.“This study shows that the process could be significantly improved by …”
Literature review
Reporting/ describing existing researchPast“Smith (2010) reported that ….”
Critical engagementPresent“Smith (2010) argues …”
Very recent literature and generalised reviewingPresent Perfect“Smith (2017) has found that …”
“Recent studies have found that …”
For recording what you actually didPastActive : “I recorded the interviews using a digital audio recorder.”
Passive: “The participants were randomly assigned between the control group and …..”
Results/ findings
Presenting the findingsPast (active or passive)“The study showed that…”
“Significant effects were noted…”
Referring to diagrams/ charts/ tablesPresent (active or passive)Active: “Figure 1 illustrates the variations of the size over time…”
Passive: “The results of this experiment were shown in figure 3…”
Comparing with other studiesPresent“This finding confirms Jones (2008) …”
Giving possible explanationsModal verbs
Could, can, may, might.
“The results can be explained by …”
Explaining particulars about your results or findingsPast“The male adult subsample responded more positively…”
Discussing the implications of your results or findingsPresent“The findings show that…”

“The study provides evidence that …”
Summarising your research studyPast“The study explored …”
Presenting your final conclusionsPresent“Young adult males are more likely to …”
Recommending future researchModal verbs –
Could, can, might, may, will
“A triangulated study could increase the …”

Again I would emphasise that these are suggestions about tenses in academic writing not fixed rules and it is always a good idea to get the advice of your supervisor if you can. It is a great idea to keep this guide handy so why not bookmark this page so that you can refer to it as your writing progresses.

If you need help writing, editing or proofreading your dissertation or thesis then please get in contact with me so we can discuss your needs. Drop me an email here or give me a call on 07395 316057.