English: skills for learning
English: skills for learning

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English: skills for learning

3.2 Selecting the most appropriate tense

In academic writing, different tenses are used in different text types for different purposes. In the following activity, you will look at how tenses are used in five university texts.

Activity 6

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes

Read Extracts 1 to 5 and answer the following questions for each of them.

  1. What is the topic?
  2. What type of text is it?
  3. Which verb tense is used?

For each extract, choose from the items in the list below to answer the three questions. Copy or type your answers into the boxes following the extracts.

Type of textTopicVerb tense
Biographical recountEcosystemsPast
Description of an objectComputingFuture
Introduction to module materialJob interviewPresent
Autobiographical recountLight energy
Methods section of a research reportPerson’s career

Extract 1

In this chapter we will revisit the food chains from Chapter 2 to investigate how living things process that energy in the form of food, and what this can tell us about the interrelationships between the living and non-living components. We shall also examine the implications for our own use of ecosystems to produce the food we need to support a growing human population.

(The Open University, Y161 Introducing environment, p. 35)
  1. What is the topic?
  2. What type of text is it?
  3. Which verb tense is used?
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Answer

QuestionExtract 1
1 What is the topic?Ecosystems
2 What type of text is it?Introduction of module material (environment)
3 Which verb tense is used?Future

Extract 2

I used a lamp with a Megaman Compact 2000 energy-saving light bulb, placed it behind the workbench, arranged the lamp so that the bulb was 3 cm above the table surface and pointed forward. To obtain a light-tight enclosure I had used a shoe box made of cardboard.

(Dehnert, D., OU student assignment for S104 Exploring science)
  1. What is the topic?
  2. What type of text is it?
  3. Which verb tense is used?
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Answer

QuestionExtract 2
1 What is the topic?Light energy
2 What type of text is it?Method section of a report
3 Which verb tense is used?Past

Extract 3

A second member of the panel quizzed her closely about her fluency in other languages but was sharply reminded by his colleague that it was not that job they were interviewing for. The third member of the panel explained that he was the current line manager for this role but that he would be retiring before the person they appointed would start the job. The fourth member of the panel asked some relevant questions, but all the time that Rita was responding to his questions, he was looking through a pile of papers on the desk in front of him.

(The Open University, B120 Introduction to business studies, p. 36)
  1. What is the topic?
  2. What type of text is it?
  3. Which verb tense is used?
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Answer

QuestionExtract 3
1 What is the topic?Job interview
2 What type of text is it?Biographical recount
3 Which verb tense is it written in?Past

Extract 4

After completing two successful gap years as a volunteer at a residential youth centre, I went on to set up my own company and work for myself, as a freelance youth worker. I did this successfully for 3 years, taking on other employees as well. Last year however a position arose at a youth centre in Nottingham where I had previously volunteered.

(Baptist, T., OU student assignment for E132 Leading work with young people)
  1. What is the topic?
  2. What type of text is it?
  3. Which verb tense is used?
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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Answer

QuestionExtract 4
1 What is the topic?Person’s career
2 What type of text is it?Autobiographical recount
3 Which verb tense is used?Past

Extract 5

The processor can be thought of as the ‘brain’ of the computer in that it manages everything the computer does. A processor is contained on a single microchip or ‘chip’. A chip is a small, thin slice of silicon, which might measure only a centimetre across but can contain hundreds of millions of transistors. The transistors are joined together into circuits by tiny wires which can be more than a hundred times thinner than a human hair. These tiny circuits enable the processor to carry out calculations and other manipulations of data.

(The Open University, T175 Block 1, Networked living: exploring information and communication technologies, p. 41)
  1. What is the topic?
  2. What type of text is it?
  3. Which verb tense is used?
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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Answer

QuestionExtract 5
1 What is the topic?Computing
2 What type of text is it?Description of an object
3 Which verb tense is used?Present

Comment

The verb tenses you use will depend on what you are doing when you write. If you are writing a recount (Extracts 3 and 4), many of the verbs will be in the past tense – a recount is a record of events in the past. This is similar to the methods section of a research report (Extract 2) – what you did is recorded. If you are writing a description (Extract 5), many of the verbs will be in the simple present tense – a description focuses on the permanent qualities or routine actions of the thing described and does not refer to time. If you are writing an introduction (Extract 1), many of the verbs will use the future tense because you are writing about something that will happen in the future.

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