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I was going through my supervisors corrections and comments on a particular section of my thesis and I realised that he consistently removed words like "recently" when referring to literature, i.e.

"In a recently published study, monkeys were taught discrete algebra when listening to Beethoven through one ear, and Beyonce through the other"

I haven't had the opportunity to talk to him about it, so I figured I might get a reason as to why words/phrases like that are not desired in literature. Besides it might be helpful for others as well.

Question(s): Is there something wrong with using phrases like "recent study"? If so, is it specific to a field (biomedical science in my case) or to a particular type of publication (thesis vs a regular article, for example)?

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I find that there are some places where temporal context (e.g., "recently") is appropriate in discussing the literature, and others where it is not:

  • When I'm justifying the "Why now? Why is this interesting?" nature of the work, typically in the introduction, timeliness is often important, and I'll use words like "recently." This helps show that researchers are currently interested in the work in the paper, and can help motivate the work by showing how it's filling in a newly recognized gap.

  • When I'm surveying a landscape of work, on the other hand, it doesn't matter when work was done, just how it relates. Then I would not note the time of publication.

Your colleague might have been over-zealous (some people have notions or phrases that they just hate), or you might have been giving information that wasn't actually useful in context, and thus should be deleted as distracting. It's impossible to know without looking at the context in detail, but hopefully these principles can help guide how you think about it.

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I'm not sure there is anything particularly wrong, but rather that it would become outdated. If someone reads your thesis 5 years from now, is what you called "recent", still "recent"? On the other hand, if you say:

These other authors (year) taught monkeys discrete algebra ...

Simply providing the year allows the reader to know how recent the other paper is, no matter when someone reads it. I don't know if there are any field-specific conventions, I would assume that it's a personal style.

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    sure, i get that what's recent now won't be recent in 5 years. On the other hand, the publication date of the thesis won't change, so the results being referred to will always stay "recent" with respect to the thesis. – posdef Aug 21 '15 at 11:00
  • That's a good point. Though it's still moving towards providing an interpretation for the reader regarding the time of publication, instead of allowing the reader to do so for him/herself. As a reader, I'd like to decide that for myself. – Jelsema Aug 21 '15 at 13:16

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