In a paper, I am describing subsets of data, but I'm not sure if I should describe these in the past or present tense. Should I use "In the data, there were 56 vowels and 50 consonants." or "In the data, there are 56 vowels and 50 consonants."?

  • 2
    This is a writing style question. Use whatever style guide your organization uses, or use whatever style the organization accepting the paper requires. (Just be consistent throughout the paper.)
    – Drew
    May 29, 2017 at 17:55

1 Answer 1


Referring to this writing guide LINK, I would suggest writing in the present perfect tense.

The present perfect is mostly used for referring to previous research in the field or to your own previous findings. Since the present perfect is a present tense, it implies that the result is still true and relevant today.

The present simple could also be used here, but the present perfect focuses more on what has been done than on what is known to be true now (present simple).

If you are in the United States I would refer you to the Modern Language Association (MLA) guidelines as a widely accepted set of academic writing procedures. Though, there are other formats, like the American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines, so check with your specific institution to confirm which is used.

  • Good, but it can be taken a step farther. The question isn't about the analysis (which occurred in the past), or the findings (which occurred in the past but are still true). It's about what's in the data, which is still true; the data hasn't changed. So from a grammatical standpoint, discussion of the data can be present tense. However, you get into style issues of consistency throughout the discussion, so the style guidelines rule.
    – fixer1234
    Jul 29, 2017 at 5:48

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