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I reached a point at which I need to write about software project requirements in my thesis. Unfortunately I am not sure whether to go with past or present tense for this section.

In this section I have various sentences like:

Once X was automated
  -- or --
Once X is automated

The second step required the generation of X
  -- or --
The second step requires the generation of X

The requirements are fulfilled so past tense seems appropriate to me. On the other hand the section should only introduce the requirements and not include information about the project status.

Are there any rules (or guidelines) that one can follow in such cases?

Thank you.

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3 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Simple present tense, active voice, is the rule for writing software requirements specifications. Write each requirement as an assertion - don't use either "shall" or "will". If your thesis is about the requirements specification, then include the specification in an appendix. In the thesis you can use past tense to discuss completed implementation phases, as in "Implementing requirement 3.4.6 User Interface forced us to re-think...".

But above all, the passive voice shall never be used!

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+1 This advice is in line with the general format of IEEE/ANSI 830-1998 –  Cameron Apr 17 '12 at 18:57
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If you are describing requirements that others need to fulfill, whether or not you have fulfilled them, you should use the present tense. If the emphasis is on the fact that you have fulfilled the requirements, use the past tense.


Disclaimer: I don't know much about thesis projects; it wouldn't hurt to take @BrettReynolds' advice and simply ask someone at your school.

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Each institution, and often each department, will have their own guidelines. Ask somebody at your institute: a librarian, your dissertation supervisor, etc.

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