Verb tenses in scientific manuscripts

A key aspect of producing a well-written scientific manuscript worthy of publication is the use of appropriate verb tenses in the different sections of the manuscript. In this infographic, we discuss when, where, and how to use the different verb tenses.

The infographic contains the following text:


Titles are often not complete sentences, i.e., no verb is used.

Fully device independent quantum key distribution [1]

If you do want to use a complete sentence, use the present tense.

What your Facebook profile picture reveals about your personality [2]


Present tense – use when stating general truths.

Many programmers rely on 3-way merge tools to integrate changes from different branches[3].

Present perfect – use when describing actions that happened in the past but are still relevant today.

Classification analyses of various sorts have been used frequently for structuring document collections [4].

Past tense – use when discussing previous studies or past events.

The ACM US Public Policy Council (USACM) was established in the early 1990s [5].


The past tense is mostly used in the methods section.

The motion was generated by rotating around a central vertical axis at the center of the point cloud using Equation (1) [6].

Occasionally, the past perfect tense and past continuous tense are required.

Past perfect tense – use when describing an action that occurred before another action.

Recruitment efforts were stopped once data saturation had been reached [7].

Past continuous tense – use when describing an ongoing action that occurred in the past.

The program team came together during major milestones to verify that the project was progressing on-schedule [8].


The past tense is mostly used in the results section of hypothesis-based studies.

We found little evidence for the “filter bubble” hypothesis [9].

The present tense is often used when describing new methodologies.

With Scatter/Gather, rather than being forced to provide terms, the user is presented with a set of clusters, an outline of the corpus [10].


As with introductions, a mixture of tenses is used in the discussion sections of scientific manuscripts, including the past tense, the present tense and the future tense.

Future tense – use when discussing the implications of the study.

Understanding these privacy norms will allow manufacturers to design devices that consumers are comfortable incorporating into their homes [11].

Figure/table legends

Present tense – use when referencing the figures/tables in the text

Examples are shown in Table 1 and Fig. 2.

  1. Vazirani U, Vidick T. Fully device independent quantum key distribution. Communications of the ACM. 2019 Mar 20;62(4):133-.
  2. Segalin C, Celli F, Polonio L, Kosinski M, Stillwell D, Sebe N, Cristani M, Lepri B. What your facebook profile picture reveals about your personality. InProceedings of the 25th ACM international conference on Multimedia 2017 Oct 19 (pp. 460-468).
  3. Sousa M, Dillig I, Lahiri SK. Verified three-way program merge. Proceedings of the ACM on Programming Languages. 2018 Oct 24;2(OOPSLA):1-29.
  4. Furnas GW, Deerwester S, Durnais ST, Landauer TK, Harshman RA, Streeter LA, Lochbaum KE. Information retrieval using a singular value decomposition model of latent semantic structure. InACM SIGIR Forum 2017 Aug 2 (Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 90-105). New York, NY, USA: ACM.
  5. Garfinkel S, Matthews J, Shapiro SS, Smith JM. Toward algorithmic transparency and accountability. Communications of the ACM. 2017 Aug 23;60(9):5-.
  6. Aygar E, Ware C, Rogers D. The contribution of stereoscopic and motion depth cues to the perception of structures in 3D point clouds. ACM Transactions on Applied Perception (TAP). 2018 Feb 21;15(2):1-3.
  7. Jones HS, Moncur W. A mixed-methods approach to understanding funder trust and due diligence processes in online crowdfunding investment. ACM Transactions on Social Computing. 2020 Feb 8;3(1):1-29.
  8. Li PL, Ko AJ, Begel A. Cross-disciplinary perspectives on collaborations with software engineers. In2017 IEEE/ACM 10th International Workshop on Cooperative and Human Aspects of Software Engineering (CHASE) 2017 May 23 (pp. 2-8). IEEE.
  9. Robertson RE, Jiang S, Joseph K, Friedland L, Lazer D, Wilson C. Auditing partisan audience bias within google search. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction. 2018 Nov 1;2(CSCW):1-22.
  10. Cutting DR, Karger DR, Pedersen JO, Tukey JW. Scatter/gather: A cluster-based approach to browsing large document collections. InACM SIGIR Forum 2017 Aug 2 (Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 148-159). New York, NY, USA: ACM.
  11. Apthorpe N, Shvartzshnaider Y, Mathur A, Reisman D, Feamster N. Discovering smart home internet of things privacy norms using contextual integrity. Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies. 2018 Jul 5;2(2):1-23.