When you're working on research papers or reports, in whatever
disciplines, follow these principles gleaned from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association and from a number of other style manuals.
1. For a "review of literature," a discussion of previous views on the subject, you have two options. The American Political Science Association and others in the social sciences
suggest the use of present tense, reserving past tense to indicate significant chronological distinctions; e.g., Strauber (1922) thought this process important, but Grey (1988)
In contrast, the APA recommends the use of past or present perfect tense, e.g., Mme.
Curie demonstrated this principle. Researchers have shown this concept valid.
2. Use past tense to describe experimental procedure--that is, to narrate what you've done to
learn the things you're writing about; e.g., Participants were required to manipulate three
different objects. * Erickson interviewed many survivors of the Buffalo Creek flood.
3. Use present tense to discuss results and to present conclusions-- that is, the general truths
you've discovered; e.g., Plainly, the first variable exerts a significant effect. These results
demonstrate clearly . . . .
And remember, sometimes you may be performing more than one of these tasks, even in
the same sentence; e.g., This experiment indicated that monkeys love bananas.
Finally, if you're in doubt about details, consult one of the discipline-specific style manuals
available on reserve in Burling. Or ask your professor; use specific examples to illustrate your
questions. And remember, whatever system you use, be consistent in each essay
I hope this will help. In my view, you can use any one: simple past or simple present.
Student or Learner