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Writing tip: Verb tense and APA style

November 27, 2013
Source: Crossroads

The APA manual provides suggestions on which verb tense is appropriate for various sections of a thesis, major project, or journal article. Please see below:

  • Past tense (e.g., "Smith showed") (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 65-66) or present perfect tense (e.g., "researchers have shown") for the literature review (p. 66) and "the description of the procedure if the discussion is of past events" (p. 66).
  • "Use past tense (e.g., "anxiety decreased significantly") to describe the results" (p. 66).
  • "Use the present tense (e.g., "the results of Experiment 2 indicate" to discuss implications of the results and to present the conclusions. By reporting conclusions in the present tense, you all readers to join you in deliberating the matter at hand" (p. 66). 

As much as possible, try to be consistent with your chosen verb tense within a section as doing so "can help ensure smooth expression" (p. 65). If the verb tenses suggested above don't make sense for the purposes of your document, please check with your instructor or academic supervisor to get his or her opinion on the best approach for your document.

Please contact the Writing Centre if you have questions about this writing tip or any other writing-related matter. 
American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.