The Use of Verb Tenses in Academic Writing
Use past tense to narrate past events.
- President Wilson hoped for vindication in the upcoming election.
Use present or present progressive to write about things happening now.
- The war intensifies daily. The situation is worsening by the hour.
Use present tense to state general truths or habitual action.
- Two physical bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
Literary present is the idea that fiction exists in a timeless world properly described in the present tense. Such conventions apply to discussion of theme, plot, or authorial intent, for example:
- In The Crucible John Proctor decides to die rather than tarnish his reputation.
Writing About History
Most of what you say in history papers will be narrative couched in some form of the past tense. This principle applies to thoughts as well as actions.
- Many progressives, who thought well of Wilson’s dreams of a new world order, drew back in revulsion when the terms of the treaty were published.
Reserve the present tense for presenting opinions current among historians today.
- Link contends that Wilson’s critics have minimized the difficulties he faced.