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Tenses in Academic Writing: A Guide to Using Literature in Introductions

In academic writing, particularly in the introduction section, it is common for authors to base their narratives on existing literature. Understanding and using the appropriate tenses when referring to previous studies is crucial for clear and effective writing. This article discusses three common tenses used in literature review and provides examples for each.

1. Past Tense: Referring to a Single Study

The past tense is used when discussing a single study conducted in the past. For example: “Huang (2007) investigated the causes of airport delays,” or in passive voice, “The causes of airport delays were investigated by Huang (2007).” This tense clearly indicates that the study was conducted at a specific point in the past.

2. Present Perfect Tense: Referring to Multiple Studies

The present perfect tense is commonly used when discussing multiple studies that have taken place over a period of time. For example: “The causes of airport delays have been widely investigated.” This statement is based on various studies conducted at different times, and using the present perfect tense highlights the ongoing nature of the research topic.

3. Present Tense: Referring to Established Knowledge

The present tense is used when referring to a widely accepted fact or statement based on various studies. For example: “The causes of airport delays are complex.” When a statement is considered a matter of fact or a general agreement within the field, the present tense is appropriate.

4. Practical Examples

Consider the following examples of each tense:

  • Past Tense: “Nabuzoka (2003) found that males usually were involved in physical and direct bullying.”
  • Present Perfect Tense: “Cyberbullying has been a serious concern for researchers and educators.”
  • Present Tense: “Cyberbullying hurts teenagers psychologically and is associated with mental and social problems.”

These examples demonstrate how different tenses can be applied when discussing previous studies in academic writing.

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