Just wanted to say a big thank you to all of those who contributed to
this discussion. It has been of great benefit to me and I hope to put
some of the ideas into practice during my next workshop next week.
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2011 10:03:32 +0200
Subject: Tense use when citing in academic English
From: "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sorry this is only really relevant for teachers of English, but I would
be grateful for any comments/information on the following.
I mainly teach written academic English in short workshops in Germany.
When I started holding these workshops about 4 years ago, I was happy to
follow what the books said about using different tenses for reporting
verbs when citing other literature in the introduction stage of a paper.
In the workshops, this usually meant going into more detail on
generalisations, information-prominence, author-prominence and agreement
with previous findings and how to use the simple past, present perfect
and present tenses in these contexts.
However, in recent workshops I have asked participants (the majority
with an economics or social science background) to look at native
speaker papers and see which tenses are being used in the literature
survey - if there is one. Most of the responses I am getting indicate a
strong use of the present tense, with little use of past or present
perfect. This is not in line with what my books are suggesting. In the
two fairly recent papers I currently have on my desk (both from the
social science area) I find that one of them subtly uses the implicit
differences between the past and the present tense to suggest agreement,
the other one only uses the present tense. I know the economist Prof.
John Cochrane recommended (2005) using the present tense in Ph.D. papers
to show commitment/take responsibility, and I have a paper from 1998 by
J. Thurstun and C. Candlin that found the present tense being used in
the papers available in a database. This raises several questions for me
1) Are the books suggesting an ideal that isn't being kept to in real
2) Has the use of tense changed with time and the books haven't been
able to keep up-to-date?
3) Is what I am finding only true for the areas I am mainly working in
(economics in the broader sense and social science)?
4) If the majority of the readers of academic papers are non-native
speakers are they getting the messages implicitly portrayed in the use
of various tenses as suggested by the books?
5) Related to question 3 - should we be teaching the use of the variety
of tenses if we wish to work with or support Global English?
5) Does anyone know of any recent research into the topic using larger
databases than my participants/my own observations?
Any comments are welcome, but as a teacher (rather than a researcher) I
would be particularly interested to know how others are dealing with
this issue when teaching.
Anne Wegner - Freelance teacher (www.ipels.de)
p.s. if anyone is interested in the file I have put together with
related quotes from the books/papers I have available, send me a mail
([log in to unmask]) and I'll send it to them.