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Language and style

Tense and voice

It is important to use the correct tense and voice in your written work. You will probably need to use different tenses throughout depending upon the context.

The third person voice

Academic arguments are not usually presented in the first person (using I, me or we), but use the third person (it is, they are, etc). This sounds more objective, using logic and reasoning to persuade, rather than using emotional or personal perspectives.

This may not apply, however, if you are asked to write a reflective report based on your own thoughts and experiences. This is a more personal style of writing and can usually be written using the first person.

Past tense for method

If you are writing about an experiment you carried out or a method you used then use the past tense.

For example: “Our experiment showed wide variations in results where the variable was altered even slightly.”

Present tense to conclude or discuss established knowledge

You should use the present tense if you are writing about

  • established knowledge
  • the findings or research of others
  • your conclusions or what you have found
  • figures that you have presented in a table or chart.

An example of writing about established knowledge:

“Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly.” (Diabetes UK, 2015)

An example of reporting on the findings or research of others:

“Smith (2022) finds that regular exercise may contribute to good cardiovascular health.”

An example of writing about your conclusions or what you have found:

“In this case there is not a large difference between the two diameter values (from Feret's diameter and calculated equation), which again is probably due to the fact that the average circularity ratio is on the high end of the scale, 0.88, and therefore infers near circular pores.”

Writing about figures that you have presented in a table or chart:

“These figures show that the number of birds visiting the hide increase every year in May...”