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Writing a research paper, I came across a remark from one of the reviewers:

"Keep it simple" […] try to stay with present simple and past simple tense.

This would discourage the use of perfect / progressive tenses.

Now, I'm not a native speaker—and neither is the reviewer—but I'm sure there are valid uses for the present perfect tense. For example:

Research has shown that […]

This effect has often been cited as […]

The authors of […] have published a database […]

This, specifically, would imply that whatever research has shown is still valid today, whereas using a past tense here would mean that the research isn't accepted at the time of writing.

Regarding that reviewer comment:

  • Why should these tenses be avoided in the first place? I wouldn't say that the "keep it simple" rule literally refers to the "simple" tenses. Or does it?
  • Is that a general rule or are the examples I've mentioned valid uses of the perfect tense?
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2 Answers 2

There is absolutely no need to avoid progressive and perfect constructions. It would be difficult to write a paper without them. Perhaps you should ask the reviewer for details on what the objection to progressive and perfect constructions might be.

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“Keep it simple” […] try to stay with present simple and past simple tense

is in general good advice; I imagine the reviewer isn't implying you can't use progressive and perfect constructions, but instead that they've noticed a problem with your use or overuse of progressive and perfect. (It is also possible the reviewer is merely trying to force his or her own stylistic preferences upon you, so it is worthwhile to ask them to point out passages they would change.)

Regarding your three examples,

Research has shown that […]
This effect has often been cited as […]
The authors of […] have published a database […]

all three of those may benefit from use of simple present or past:

Research shows that […]
This effect is often cited as […]
The authors of […] published a database […]

These forms are shorter, stronger, more direct, less pompous, and quite as accurate. (Except in the third case, you might write “The authors of […] maintain a database […]” if the database is kept current.)

Regarding your assertion about whether research is still valid, I agree that using past tense in the first example would be a mistake; but using present tense casts no such shadow.

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This sounds reasonable. I can understand that perfect tenses could be overused in papers of non-native speakers, and thinking about it I've noticed it myself as well. I just failed to find specific examples in my paper except for one or two passages—it might have been a boilerplate comment. –  slhck Dec 10 '12 at 20:13

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