Using the Correct Tense for an Academic Paper
An academic essay is a formal document in which the language used has to meet established standards. While many forms of writing such as emails permit the use of informal language, colloquialisms, and slang, an academic essay needs to be written in formal language and impeccable grammar. If you do not think you can do this you will learn. It is not that different than speaking. Do you speak to your parents or to your professor the same way you do with your friends, while on the basketball court, or while at the mall? Most certainly you do not. You would not have passed the 5th grade if you did not naturally learn to speak in different settings, tones, and styles. Think of writing in the same way.
Writers need to be consistent in tense usage in an academic essay. While different subjects permit the use of different tenses, every essay should use a single tense consistently.
Mixing up the tenses or shifting from the present to the past tense in an essay will make it difficult for the reader to follow the arguments presented. This will detract from your point and impede the reader in trying to understand what you are trying to convey. If this is the case, you are not going to hit on the points like you are trying to do. In essence, you are spinning your wheels and not going nearly the speed you want to go and may not even reach your destination.
Science essays that deal with facts that are applicable to all time should use the present tense. For instance, when describing the metamorphosis of a butterfly, the writer will use the present tense and write that the larva turns into a butterfly through the process of metamorphosis. Similarly, when quoting from another author, you need to write that the author says or claims or argues something. You need to give them the credit they deserve.
The MLA style sheet prefers the present tense for citations as well as general use. By using the verbs in the correct tense, it is possible to introduce more clarity in your essay.
The APA style sheet prefers the past tense or present perfect in essays especially when introducing citations.
The Chicago Manual of Style
The Chicago Manual of Style and Turabian recommend using the past tense for academic essays.
An academic essay should aim to convince readers about the validity of the thesis statement. This means that writers should avoid conditional tenses such as could, would, and should.
Students writing an essay have to keep track of many things to ensure that the final essay is great. To ensure that they do not miss a crucial element in their essay even experienced writers will benefit from a checklist. A checklist for grammar and punctuation in an academic essay should necessarily mention tense. Every writer should check the essay for consistent and proper use of tenses.
While each style sheet has its own recommendations for tense usage, all agree that the writer has to be consistent in using the same tense throughout and avoid conditional tenses.
Taking Care of the Simple Stuff
By keeping these general guidelines in mind when editing or finalizing an academic essay, the student should be able to submit better quality work for evaluation and grading. If your work does not standout among your peers, at least you are not being slighted for mistakes that could have been easily prevented. That is the worst feeling to have.
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