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Capstone Multilingual Writing Tips: Blog

January 2021: What Verb Tenses Do You Need to Master for Academic Writing?

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


Grammar books often show 12 to 16 different verb tenses in English. For an overview of these tenses, see the verb tense webpage. However, not all of these verb tenses are needed to be a successful writer in U.S. academic English. Hinkel (n.d.) claimed that language learners need to learn only 10 of these verb tenses. For more instruction on verb tense and usage, her visual interactive slide show breaks down the tenses and their meanings clearly.

Other researchers have found that even fewer verb tenses need to be mastered to be successful writer. Biber et al. (1999) asserted that academic writers can choose from the simple present, the simple past, and the present perfect for more than 98% of the verbs that require tense (pp. 456-461). Similarly, Caplan (2012) stated that only three tenses are used for the majority of verb phrases in academic writing. Specifically, the simple present is used 70% of the time, the simple past is used around 23% of the time, and the present perfect is used about 5% of the time (Caplan, 2012, p. 66).

What does that mean for you? Well, it means that you really only have to focus on mastering a few English verb tenses for academic writing and for completion of your capstone study! In addition to the simple present (I write), simple past (I wrote), and present perfect (I have written), remember that the proposal of your capstone document will be written in the future (I will write). Choosing the correct verb tense potentially becomes complicated when writing in APA and writing to follow Walden-specific guidelines. Keep these ideas in mind:

  • Use the future in the proposal to explain the research you will conduct:
    • Once I receive IRB approval, I will conduct semistructured face-to-face interviews.
  • Use the present tense to describe present implications or conclusions:
    • Table 1 shows the demographic information of the participants.
  • Use the present tense to forecast the structure of the document itself:
    • In this chapter, I describe the results.
  • Use the past tense to summarize information already described:
    • In summary, in this section, I presented the assumptions, limitations, and delimitations.
  • Use the past tense to refer to the work of other researchers:
    • Taylor (2018) asserted that the Every Student Succeeds Act is an improvement over No Child Left Behind.
  • Use the past tense to describe results:
    • Test scores improved significantly from pretest to posttest.
  • Use the past tense or the present perfect in the literature and the description of the procedures:
    • Researchers have illustrated that meaning is the most important aspect of human motivation.
    • I followed the guidelines for research with human subjects.

For more information and resources on verb tenses, see these links:


Happy Writing!


Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S., & Finegan, E. (1999). Longman grammar of written and spoken English. Pearson.

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

Hinkel, E. (n.d.). Teaching tenses to ESL students.

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