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Tense Trends in a Dissertation: Which tense to be used in Which Chapter?

However well and thoroughly researched your dissertation or dissertation may be, it will fail to impress and secure good grades if it has distorted grammar and spelling errors. So, before the submission of dissertation, you need to be doubly sure about your work by proofreading again and again to make it free from grammatical errors.

Let us discuss one of the most commonly made queries here. What tense to be used in which section of the dissertation? If you are confused about the same read on….

Consistency of verb throughout the dissertation ensures a smooth expression and leaves the impression of your dissertation as an impeccable one. So, which type of verb tenses should be used in the different sections of the dissertation? Here is a quick look:

When to Use Past Tense?

For describing Methodologies and Reporting Your Results:

Methodologies used is to be written in the past tense as it is something you have already attempted or completed so it should be written in the past tense only. Also, the results section is for the purpose of recording what you have found so it has to be written in past as well.

Citations or when referring to the work done by past researchers

When you cite any previous research in your dissertation, you need to use past tense. Citations of dissertation are to be written in the past tense. Whatever the previous researcher has said, did or wrote happened in the past at a specific point of time and hence it cannot be written in the present or future tense.

To describe a fact, law, finding or any other similar thing used in the dissertation which is no longer relevant or valid is to be mentioned in the past tense.

When to Use Present Tense?

For the findings that are general or universal truths or for the findings that are relevant and valid till date:

Present tense is used in the dissertations to express the findings that are still valid, relevant or true. Not only this, all the facts, general truths, conclusions, etc. that are supported by the research results and that cannot be changed are to be written in the present tense.

To refer any section or any portion which is a part of dissertation

If you refer to certain charts, tables or graphs etc. mentioned in the paper itself you should use a present tense only. Also, when you need to discuss your current findings or conclude depending on your current findings then you should use present tense.

Title: This is the place where no other tense accept present tense can be used.

Abstract of the Dissertation

Abstract of a dissertation is a short summary of a long and elaborative work. It enables the potential readers to identify what the paper is all about and decide whether the paper is worth reading or not. It includes statement of the topic, its purpose and objectives of the research. This is to be written in perfect past.

Introduction of the Dissertation:

It provides preliminary background information that puts research in context. It also clarifies the focus of study and also points out the value of research. This particular section specifies the aims and objectives of research work. It is to be written in (present and future) tense.

Methodologies Used:

In this section of the dissertation all the methods adopted for gathering and collecting data have to be mentioned along with their proper details. The section should be written in past perfect, present or in future tense.

Result of the Dissertation:

In this section of the dissertation work, you report the findings of study that are based on the methodologies used in conducting the dissertation. This section of the research work states the finding of research where researcher puts all the findings of the research logically without any interpretations. The section is to be written in Past perfect tense.

Discussions of Dissertation:

The purpose of discussion is to interpret and describe the importance of findings in the view of what is already known about the problem and to investigate and explain the understanding of dissertation. Since it is direct and straightforward, it should be written in present tense only. Since it is like a direct discussion with the readers, it needs to be in present tense only.


Conclusion of a dissertation is an important section of dissertation work as it is the last part of dissertation and when you write it effectively, you will be able to create a lasting impression. So, aim towards making it the last impression and clearly state the answer of your research, make a summary of the entire research work and reflects your research. Conclusion is to be written in present tense mentioning the scope of further study on the topic.

Background: A Quick Look

There are three types of tenses that make 98% of the tensed verbs that are used in the academic writing. One of the most common tense used in writing dissertations is the present simple. Past simple and present perfect are also widely used.

Where to Use Present Simple Tense?

It is used for framing the Research paper. When you open the dissertation and begin to write what the readers already know about the topic and in the conclusion to tell what is not known.

Apart from that Present Simple is used for the following:

  • To point out the main focus, or argument or aim of the research paper.
  • To make general statements, interpretations, conclusions and other findings of the past and current research.
  • To refer to the findings of previous studies without the mention of author’s name.
  • To refer to charts, tables or figures etc.
  • To describe the events or plots.

Where to Use Past Simple Tense?

The past simple tense is used for referring the activities that took in the past. There are some specific places where this tense is used.

  • To make general statements or the conclusions past simple tense is used. Sometimes, interpretations about the findings of the previous and current research are also done in past simple.
  • To describe methodologies or data.
  • To report the results of studies.

Where to Use Present Perfect Tense?

This tense is used to refer that the previous research work is valid and relevant today. This tense has three following functions.

  • For introducing any new topic or used for introducing a new report or a research paper.
  • For summarising or briefing the previous research.
  • For pointing out any gaps in the existing research work and to set a connection between the past and the present.
  • To explain any past findings without referring to the original paper.

Different sections of the dissertation take up different tenses. You need to be well aware and use your rationale to apply the correct form of tense. Future tense is used in the rare case but it can be used when future scope of any study done is discussed. There are times when you can switch tense within a paragraph or even within a sentence but you should have a good reason for doing so and the sentence should not sound weird anyway.

A glimpse of which tense to use where in dissertation

  • Chapter one which is an introduction or a prelude is to be written. Both the present and the past tense are used.
  • Chapter two is the literature review and it is to be written only in the past tense as they are the previously carried out works.
  • Chapter three is research analysis (specific methods chosen by the writer to carry out research work. It is to be written in past.
  • hapter four caters to results derived from research studies. It explains the results of objective, question and point out the salient results. It is to be written in combination of present and past.
  • Chapter five is conclusion, further discussions or future scope. It has to be in present tense only.

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