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Instructions for Written Work


Tenses express the time of events or existence. Tense choices are, to some extent, linked to the different parts of a text, and, in some situations, to the writer’s attitude towards their source. The present instruction is suggestive. For textual fluency and stylistic coherence, it is important to use different tenses accurately and consistently. 

The present tense

The present tense is typically used in the following contexts:

  • temporally unlimited or still ongoing action or current phenomenon 
  • explanations of terms 
  • general or generally valid claims 
  • presentation of theoretical knowledge 
  • claims and assumptions derived from theory 
  • reference to tables, pictures, figures, and appendixes
Figure 3 illustrates…


  • presentation of conclusions together with research results
A comparison of the data shows that…

The past tense

The past tense (or, if needed, other tenses of the past) are used in the following cases:

  • action or state that occurred at a given time in the past, finished action 
  • reporting on previously published single studies 
Cf. ”Brian and Jones (2020) found in their study” 


”Brian and Jones (2020) have found…”


In the latter example, the significance of the source for the writer is articulated more clearly and with more emphasis  

  • reporting on the data in a literature review 
  • stages prior to the study 
  • stating the implementation and methods, data collection, and scope of the study:
”This development project includes an interview with...”


  • results of the study: 
”The results confirmed the assumption that…”


Tense choices related to the different parts of the text


  • Past tense: aim and purpose, methods, results
  • Present tense: conclusions


  • Tenses may vary 
  • The present tense for writing about the study and its reporting:
”This thesis study aims to find out…”


  • The past tense for reporting on the actual study:
 ”The study was conducted in cooperation…”


Material and methods

  • the past tense


  • May have been written using various different structures, and the tense used varies according to them 
  • As a rule, the past tense 


  • As a rule, the past tense: discussion on the research process, reporting on the results (the aim, hypotheses, and stages of the study; the principal results of the study)
  • the present tense:  the explanations, generalizability, and consequences of the research findings, the importance of the study, future prospects 

N.B. Use the present tense, instead of the future tense (will + INF), to refer to the subsequent parts of the thesis (“The results of the analysis are presented in Chapter 4”). This is a “pragmatic exception” to the rules governing the use of tenses in English, according to which the future tense is normally used when referring to future action.


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