While writing the literature review section, I am confused about which tense should I use (past, present perfect, or present) while referring to other people's work.

I understand that established facts are presented in the present tense. Work done is presented in past or present-perfect tense. But in what tense should I define their (i) system model, (ii) experiments, and (iii) results so that the overall picture remains coherent and it does not seem like I am jumping from one tense to another?

What is the basis for using any of these tenses?

1 Answer 1


I present established facts in present tense, indeed. Other people's work that has led to these facts is presented in past or present-perfect. So for example: "Snippert et al. established a confetti mouse-line, and after doxycyclin administration showed that intestinal crypts tend towards clonality."

  • To do this, you do need to know what counts as an 'established fact' and what is just the latest theory. The history of science is littered with 'established facts' that no-one now believes. The Greek word hubris describes the attitude summarised thus: "Back then they thought X, but now we know Y". In truth Y is just the latest theory; it could be overturned tomorrow. These thoughts suggest to me that a sprinkling of "generally accepted" and such-like phrases would be prudent.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 23:02

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