Present and Past Tenses
My manager brought it to my attention that I often incorrectly switch between past and present tense in my reports. How can I correct this error in my writing?
Incorrect verb tense is a common error in professional writing. Unfortunately, this error may make your writing appear confusing and unpolished to the reader.
Keep the following tips in mind next time you are writing a report:
The subject and verb must agree. If your subject’s actions are in the past, then your verb must be past tense. Similarly, if your subject’s actions are in the present, then the verb must also be present tense.
Adam is sending the file to you now. (Present tense–the reader knows to expect the file).
Adam sent the file to you yesterday. (Past tense–the reader knows that the file was sent).
Be consistent. If your entire first paragraph is in past tense, don’t abruptly switch to present tense at the end. Not only will this disrupt the flow of your writing, it may also cloud the meaning of your message. It is always safest to choose one tense: past or present, and carry it through the entire paragraph.
It is acceptable to change from one tense to the other in the same piece of writing. For example, one paragraph may be summarizing what has already been done on a project, and the next paragraph may be covering what you are currently doing. Just make sure that you consciously make the shift and that it is clear to your reader.
Notice the timeframe. If you are writing a report referencing a study conducted years ago, it does not make sense to write about it in the present tense as if it were currently taking place.