I am currently writing my first scientific paper and therefore I am wondering which tense I should use in it.

I'd tend to use a future tense, but present perfect seems to be suitable as well.


[In the first part of this paper, we will study how ...]


[In the first part of this paper, we have studied how ...]

  • 7
    How about simple present? It was good enough for Watson & Crick. More seriously, look at a few papers in your field and see what tenses they use. I would be very surprised if any of them used present perfect. – Peter Shor Aug 12 '18 at 0:27
  • Also, if the present perfect is used, it would only be used after you've already discussed something, not before discussing it. – Jason Bassford Aug 12 '18 at 2:32
  • More things to consider are word count and international readship. You might have a page limit and "we study" simply takes up less room than "we will study" and "we have studied" or (in some cases) "we have been studying". It is also easier to read if English isn’t your first language. Also, at the point of reading, the paper is complete, so "will" (and future tense) is, perhaps, redundant. Although at the point of writing, future tense feels natural for referring to sections not yet written. – Pam Aug 12 '18 at 11:16
  • 1
    p_punkt, sorry to be so obvious and that's down first to your department and then to your college… If they have no style guides then please consider which professional association most suits your career goals, and follow that style guide. – Robbie Goodwin Aug 12 '18 at 20:41
  • @p_punkt you should use present, but mainly because it allows for more active writing style e.g. "in this study we exam..." avoiding passive writing is more important than tense. – faustus Dec 11 '18 at 18:47

Generally, scientific papers are written in the present tense, with past tense used to describe the experiments that were done during the research, and future tense reserved for planned future work.

Here is a writing style guide from Nature that gives more detailed explanations about tenses.

There are several conventions about the use of tense that vary between authors, and may vary between scientific disciplines. For example, previous work done by other researchers can be reported in past tense or in present perfect tense. I would suggest looking at several papers in your discipline to see how they use tenses.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.