According to corpus research, in academic writing, the three tenses used the most often are the (a) simple present, (b) simple past, and (c) present perfect. The next most common tense is the future; some major assessments, course assignments, and the doctoral study proposal at Walden are written in this tense for a study that will be conducted in the future.
Simple present: Use the simple present to describe a general truth or a habitual action. This tense indicates that the statement is generally true in the past, present, and future.
Simple past: Use the simple past tense to describe a completed action that took place at a specific point in the past (e.g., last year, 1 hour ago, last Sunday). In the example below, the specific point of time in the past is 1998.
Present perfect: Use the present perfect to indicate an action that occurred at a nonspecific time in the past. This action has relevance in the present. The present perfect is also sometimes used to introduce background information in a paragraph. After the first sentence, the tense shifts to the simple past.
Future: Use the future to describe an action that will take place at a particular point in the future (at Walden, this is used especially when writing a proposal for a doctoral capstone study).
Keep in mind that verb tenses should be adjusted after the proposal after the research has been completed. See this blog post about Revising the Proposal for the Final Capstone Document for more information.
APA calls for consistency and accuracy in verb tense usage (see APA 7, Section 4.12 and Table 4.1). In other words, avoid unnecessary shifts in verb tense within a paragraph or in adjacent paragraphs to help ensure smooth expression.
When explaining what an author or researcher wrote or did, use the past tense.
However, there can be a shift to the present tense if the research findings still hold true:
To preview what is coming in the document or to explain what is happening at that moment in the document, use the present or future tense:
To refer back to information already covered, such as summaries of discussions that have already taken place or conclusions to chapters/sections, use the past tense:
Rules for the use of the present perfect differ slightly in British and American English. Researchers have also found that among American English writers, sometimes individual preferences dictate whether the simple past or the present perfect is used. In other words, one American English writer may choose the simple past in a place where another American English writer may choose the present perfect.
Keep in mind, however, that the simple past is used for a completed action. It often is used with signal words or phrases such as "yesterday," "last week," "1 year ago," or "in 2015" to indicate the specific time in the past when the action took place.
The present perfect focuses more on an action that occurred without focusing on the specific time it happened. Note that the specific time is not given, just that the action has occurred.
The present perfect focuses more on the result of the action.
The present perfect is often used with signal words such as "since," "already," "just," "until now," "(not) yet," "so far," "ever," "lately," or "recently."
The 12 main tenses:
Zero conditional (general truths/general habits).
First conditional (possible or likely things in the future).
Second conditional (impossible things in the present/unlikely in the future).
Third conditional (things that did not happen in the past and their imaginary results)
Subjunctive: This form is sometimes used in that-clauses that are the object of certain verbs or follow certain adjectives. The form of the subjective is the simple form of the verb. It is the same for all persons and number.