The Yoga of Verb Tense in APA Style

Verb tenses in reviewing literature can convey different to readers. So please be careful.

Use of Tense in Scholarly Writing

The other occasion when the use of verb tenses is critically important is to refer to the document itself.


APA Style Guidelines on Verb Tense

APA calls for consistency and accuracy in verb tense usage (see APA 3.06). In other words, avoid unnecessary shifts in verb tense within a paragraph or in adjacent paragraphs to help ensure smooth expression.

  • Use the past tense (e.g., researchers presented) or the present perfect (e.g., researchers have presented) for the literature review and the description of the procedure if discussing past events.
  • Use the past tense to describe the results (e.g., test scores improved significantly).
  • Use the present tense to discuss implications of the results and present conclusions (e.g., the results of the studyshow…).

Per APA 3.18, refer to the work of another researcher in the past.

  • Patterson (2012) presented, found, stated, discovered…

However, there can be a shift to the present tense if the research findings still hold true:

  • King (2010) found that revising a document three times improves the final grade.
  • Smith (2016) discovered that the treatment is effective.

Verb Tense Guidelines When Referring to the Document Itself

To preview what is coming in the document or to explain what is happening at that moment in the document, use the present or future tense:

  • In this study, I will describe
  • In this study, I describe
  • In the next chapter, I will discuss
  • In the next chapter, I discuss

To refer back to information already covered, such as summaries of discussions that have already taken place or conclusions to chapters/sections, use the past tense:

  • Chapter 1 contained my original discussion of the research questions.
  • In summary, in this section, I presented information on…