I'm writing a Software Design Document. It is being written in parallel to the development, so as some features are already finished they are written in past tense (the only way I know of articulating that is past tense). As for features which haven't yet been developed, I only know how to articulate that in the future tense. Is there a way to declare the same thing (I'm sure a verb is needed), without tense? And a common, colloquial, non-odd sounding way too?

I currently have these 2 problems with being forced to use past or future tense,

  1. When a feature is implemented, it must be updated in the spec doc. Not a bad practice, but if it is missed then it will be misleading and confusing, not a good thing.
  2. I want the software design document to talk only about the specifications, since it is a specification document. I don't want to to be correlated to the progress of the project.

For example, my statements about the specifications are as follows:

  • The configuration file produced is in the Windows INI format.
  • The user will be prompted to

4 Answers 4


A design document is supposed to describe the design, not the current progress. The design stays the same, no matter how much of it is already implemented (or indeed whether anything at all gets implemented ever). So pick one tense and stick with it. For example,

  • The file is in the X format.
  • The user is prompted to Y.

And look — as chance would have it, I'm not using past or future tense there. (Though of course you could just as well use the future "tense" throughout.)

  • Like most people, this user is employing the word tense in a sense other than the one that means merely inflection. OED: “Gram. Any one of the different forms or modifications (or word-groups) in the conjugation of a verb which indicate the different times (past, present, or future) at which the action or state denoted by it is viewed as happening or existing, and also (by extension) the different nature of such action or state, as continuing (imperfect) or completed (perfect); also abstr. that quality of a verb which depends on the expression of such differences.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 14:34
  • One OED citation spells this out explicitly: “The tenses of the English verb are made partly by inflection, partly by the use of auxiliary verbs.” It is clear that it in English, a finite verb can be in only one of two different inflections: the present or the past. However, people commonly use “tense” to talk about longer, multiword constructs that employ auxiliaries, such as calling “will have spoken” the future perfect, for example, or calling “would have spoken” the conditional perfect. Sure, will is in the present tense and would in the past—but there’s more to it than that.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 19:36

One of the functions of the simple present tense is to express facts which are always true.

The earth goes around the sun.
The only certainties are death and taxes.

So it’s entirely proper that your final document should be cast entirely in the present tense. Take up your authorial residence in the future, when the project has been completed, and describe it as it will then appear.

The configuration file produced is in the Windows INI format. (produced here is not past tense—it is a passive participle)
The user is prompted to ...
If the user selects X, the system responds by ...

You should implement a system which enables you to track progress and revision history by marking each section as “projected—date” or “implemented—date” or “revised—date”, with whatever notes you require internally; but if you design this with care, it will be a simple matter to excise the history and distribute the spec document without further alteration.


Such documents are always written in Simple Present Tense. I am also a Developer, as I come across any documentation , it is always in Simple Present Tense.Assume that you have a Hotel Management Project, for writing the software process or design for click on particular button, we have the following:

User clicks on the Blah button and is redirected to the home page of the hotel.

and so on. you should use simple present tense to write your SRS or Software Design Document.


You will have to pick some tense, surely!

I would recommend (being in the software field myself) to adopt the following format:

The configuration file is in the Windows INI format.
The user is prompted to...

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