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    #1

    Question Tenses in technical writing

    Not once have I come across pieces of technical writing in which present perfect was used in sentences like the following:
    (1) "Smith (1990) has presented a procedure for..."

    I have problems with accepting this use of present perfect and see no particular reason to choose this tense to convey such a message as this sentence does. In my eyes, past simple or present simple would work much better here.

    What's more, I found works in which the three tenses mentioned were used in such sentences, so besides (1), elsewhere in the piece you would read:
    (2) "Johnson (1999) writes that this procedure is not efficient because..." and
    (3) "Novak (1988) mentioned that for such instances the classical..."

    This creates a strange feeling and the writing seems inconsistent. I think (2) and (3) are acceptable, but except for some certain situations, a writer should be consistent in choosing one them in a piece of writing.

    I'll appreciate any comments on the above.

    Many thanks,
    Nyggus


    • Join Date: Dec 2007
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    #2

    Re: Tenses in technical writing

    I would like to be skilled in technical writing. i am an Indian wanting to learn English language more. So Please send me the courses relevent for me.
    thank you

  1. rewboss's Avatar

    • Join Date: Feb 2006
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    #3

    Re: Tenses in technical writing

    No, the grammar is technically fine.

    The present perfect specifically links a past action with a present state of affairs. Smith presented his procedure in the past, and as a result there is now a procedure which can be followed. It is a bit unusual to use the present perfect when the action is so far back in time (nearly 18 years!) but there's no law against it.

    The present simple can be used with verbs like "say", "believe" and "write" to emphasise that we believe the subject is still of the same opinion now. In other words, we could rewrite your sentence 2 like this:

    Johnson writes (and, if we were to ask him today, he would write the same) that...

    This doesn't work with "present" in sentence 1, because once Smith has presented his procedure, it's already been presented: it's a one-off action that can't be repeated. If he tried to present it again, people would say, "Yes, we already know about this procedure; you don't need to explain it to us all over again."

    In sentence 3, we could certainly use the present simple, because if we spke to Novak today, he probably would mention his opinion again. The present perfect would also be possible (the present result would be that we are aware of his opinions).

    I don't think this is bad style, although I can understand why a non-native speaker might find the see-sawing of tenses a bit confusing. If the writer were to use, for example, the present perfect throughout, it would be very repetitive and monotonous.

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    #4

    Re: Tenses in technical writing

    Thanks, Rewboss.

    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss View Post
    I don't think this is bad style, although I can understand why a non-native speaker might find the see-sawing of tenses a bit confusing.
    Actually, this use of present perfect can be found mostly in pieces written by non-native English speakers. And it still looks strange to me, despite your explanation (which doesn't mean your explanation was bad or unconvincing, but that my head is hard as a nut). But would you say, "The first safety razor has been invented by company founder King C. Gillette in 1903" OR "The first safety razor was invented by company founder King C. Gillette in 1903" (the latter from CALD)? If it were 1993 not 1903, would it change anything? But still the former sentence does suit your explanation, doesn't it?

    If the writer were to use, for example, the present perfect throughout, it would be very repetitive and monotonous.
    But would it be repetitive and monotonous if the writer used the past simple throughout?

    Thanks,
    Nyggus

  2. rewboss's Avatar

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    #5

    Re: Tenses in technical writing

    Quote Originally Posted by nyggus View Post
    Actually, this use of present perfect can be found mostly in pieces written by non-native English speakers. And it still looks strange to me, despite your explanation (which doesn't mean your explanation was bad or unconvincing, but that my head is hard as a nut). But would you say, "The first safety razor has been invented by company founder King C. Gillette in 1903" OR "The first safety razor was invented by company founder King C. Gillette in 1903" (the latter from CALD)? If it were 1993 not 1903, would it change anything? But still the former sentence does suit your explanation, doesn't it?
    Actually, there are many differences. First of all, razors have moved on and developed considerably since Gillette's invention, so the connection with the present is lost. Secondly, the inclusion of a specific date in the sentence shifts the focus away from the present to the past. (In the original sentence the date was merely a piece of data inserted as a parenthetical comment to help the reader identify the publication the author is quoting from, and is not actually part of the sentence itself.) Both these facts make the past simple a more natural choice for most speakers.

    But would it be repetitive and monotonous if the writer used the past simple throughout?
    Not necessarily. However, the nuances of the present perfect (which lend a sense of urgency or currency to the text, due to the implied connection with the present) would be unavailable.

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