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Capstone Multilingual Writing Tips: Blog

February 2021: Choosing the Present Perfect Tense in Academic Writing

by Paul Lai on 2021-02-01T07:00:00-06:00 | 0 Comments


The last tip of the month focused on verb tenses to master for academic writing in English. Among these tenses, one stylistic choice you may have to make is between the simple past and the present perfect. This can be tricky because rules for the use of the present perfect differ slightly in British and U.S. English. In addition, the present perfect is rarely required (Caplan, 2012), and individual preferences may dictate which tense is used. In other words, one U.S. English writer may choose the simple past in a place where another U.S. English writer may choose the present perfect. However, Caplan (2012) emphasized that the “correct use of the present perfect is a sign of sophisticated and effective writing” (p. 71). 


Caplan (2012) specified five situations in which a writer may choose the present perfect tense (pp. 71-72):

  • to introduce a topic or an entire paper (often with there has/have been)
    • There has been considerable focus on active learning strategies over the past 20 years.
  • to summarize previous research with general subjects (often with researchers have found or studies have suggested)
    • Many researchers have studied how small business owners can be successful beyond the initial few years in business. 
  • to indicate a connection between the past (what has been found) and the present (how will you contribute to the field)
    • Although researchers have established a link between X and Y, there is less information about how one idea relates to the other. 
  • to describe previous findings without referring directly to the original research, especially in the passive voice (remember, however, that APA prefers the use of the active voice for precision and clarity)
    • Relationships between employee turnover and absenteeism have been established in numerous studies.
    • Alternative example to keep the sentence in the active voice: A number of researchers have established relationships between employee turnover and absenteeism.
  • to tell the history of an idea, describe the results of research, or draw conclusions. In many cases, but not all, the present perfect establishes context and is followed by sentences that provide more specific supporting details, often in the simple past.
    • Since the 1970s, researchers have applied Knowles’s theory of andragogy in a number of settings.
    • The professional development workshop I have created will be implemented at the study site.

Revision Tip: In addition to this blog post, look back at the rules and examples on the Simple Past Versus the Present Perfect page. Then, reread the latest draft of your doctoral capstone manuscript and look for places where the present perfect could be used for sophisticated and effective academic writing. Revise as needed. Happy Writing!



Caplan, N. A. (2012). Grammar choices for graduate and professional writers. University of Michigan Press.

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