Knowing what time to use when in an English thesis or dissertation is a common problem faced by writers, whether English is their native language or not. A tense allows an event to be located in a chronology, and the different tenses are identified by the associated verbal forms. We can categorize times in two ways: first, we can think of the distinction between past, present, and future. We can also consider the four forms that each of these times can take: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect-progressive.
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To refresh your memory, here is an elementary distribution of some basic functions of tenses and their forms (note that the "perfect" form is characterized by the use of the verb "to have", and the progressive form by that of "to be "):
Times in a thesis or dissertation in English
Below is a table representing the different times used in theses in English (or dissertations, internship reports, etc.) and the functions they most often serve. First of all, however, it is useful to note that the future and the progressive form are by far the least common in academic writing.
The future tense is not often used in an English thesis because it tends to express a predictive tone with a high degree of certainty. Because academics are expected to be cautious about their claims, predicting with certainty is often (though not always) inappropriate.
To solve this problem, the academic writer faced with the need to describe future events should consider the use of modal verbs other than will (the verb most commonly used to mark the future).
Modal verbs express possibility, and include will, shall, could, would, ought, can, and may. They can be used at any time but have a specific purpose, as many of them (with the notable exception of will and shall ) do not refer with certainty to something that has already actually happened, which is happening, or is about to happen.
Also, progressive forms are generally avoided in a thesis or dissertation in English, for at least three reasons.
First, it doesn't happen that often that an academic needs to point out that something is happening.
Second, because the progressive form is used frequently in spoken English, it can give an informal, unwanted tone to the writing.
Finally, unless the author has a specific need to point out that something is in progress, the progressive form can generate an excessive use of the verb "to be" and inflate the writing with unnecessary use of the present participles (i.e. 'ie verbs ending in "ing", such as "going") while the simple form would be more concise - "goes" (simple form) instead of "is going" (progressive form).