In this blog, we will see what tense you should use in the literature review section of your research paper. We will look at some examples of literature review excerpts from published research papers and understand the tenses used in them.

1. Which Tense to Use?

You may have to use multiple tenses in your literature review depending on what you are saying. The present tense is generally used in statements to introduce the literature review, and the past tense is typically used when you are talking about specific papers. The following table summarizes different types of statements you might typically include in your literature review and the corresponding tenses you should use.

TenseWhen to use?Example
Simple Present, Present PerfectIntroduction to literature review, Summary of the works in the field.There is a vast literature on this topic.
Present PerfectOngoing situationsThere have been several attempts to solve this issue.
Simple PastSpecific pieces of research from the pastElan et al. (2003) proposed a theoretical solution to the issue.
Present PerfectProven facts, Widely accepted findings It has been shown that age and mental health are linked [3-4].

2. Usage Example #1

In the first statement, we make a general statement about the topic by saying that this topic has been studied extensively in the literature, and therefore we have used the present tense. In the second sentence, we say that although there has been a lot of research on this topic, it is still relevant today and therefore we have used the present perfect tense.

Example of simple present & present perfect tense use

This is widely reported and extensively explored in the literature. This has been of interest for a considerable period, ranging from the early 90s.

_ Broad summary (Simple Present) _ Ongoing situation (Present Perfect)

3. Usage Example #2

In the first statement, we begin the literature review by saying that there are many techniques available in the literature to combat weight gain. This statement is only a general summary of previous research on this topic. So we used the present perfect tense. Then, when we then talk about individual works from the literature, we present their results in the past tense.

Example of present perfect & past tense use

A number of solutions have been proposed to deal with the problem of weight gain and obesity. He simplest approach was proposed by Lee et al. (2003) which involves fasting. Wang et al. (2010) proposed an alternative solution of using an intragastric balloon.

_ Broad summary (Present Perfect) _ Specific papers from past (Past Tense)

4. Usage Example #3

In the following example, in the first sentence we are talking about a collective finding that is generally accepted in the field, and therefore we have used the present perfect tense. In the second statement, we are talking about a finding from a specific work conducted in the past and have therefore used the past tense.

Example of present perfect & past tense use

It has been shown that there is a direct correlation between social media and children’s mental health[1-10]. Recently, Elan et al.[11] showed that these findings also applies to teenagers and older population.

_ Accepted findings (Present Perfect) _ Specific paper from past (Past Tense)

5. Usage Example #4

In the example below, we talk about past research papers and that’s why we have used the past tense.

Example of past tense use

In the initial work presented by Kim et al. (2004), they showed that there is a direct link between Vitamin C and obesity. Smith et al. (2006) replicated this finding in a much larger study. Recently, it was pointed out by Young et al. (2010) that Vitamin C is also related to many other diseases.

_ Specific papers from past (Past Tense)

6. Summary

If you have any questions, please drop a comment below, and we will answer as soon as possible. We also recommend you to refer to our other blogs on academic writing tools,  academic writing resourcesacademic writing phrases and research paper examples which are relevant to the topic discussed in this blog. 

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