The topic of tenses for citing sources in academic writing is rarely taught in the ESL classroom. In this article, I will cover the APA’s tenses for citing sources as well as the three standard tenses for citing sources when you’re not bound to the APA style. Also, I will provide a list of citing verbs which you can use, as recommended by one of Australia’s leading universities.
As a university student who writes assignments in English, I’m assuming you are already confident in the structure and use of all English tenses. Therefore, this article instead focuses specifically on the standard tenses for citing sources when writing for Australian universities. This is rarely taught in ESL or EAP (English for Academic Purposes) classes prior to commencing university study in Australia so it’s well worth exploring.
Examples: Tenses for Citing Sources
Below I present the APA’s unique requirements when it comes to tenses for citing sources. Then I explore the standards more commonly used in Australia or in cases when we’re not required to adhere to the APA style.
A. APA (American Psychological Association) Style
Internationally, the most commonly used style guide for the social sciences is the APA. The APA requires students to cite sources in the past simple or the present perfect simple.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018) asserted/has asserted that agricultural businesses operate across 51% of Australia’s total land area.
Personally, I find this APA requirement slightly restrictive. This is because we are limited to just two tenses which fail to cover every unique context possible for citing sources. Nevertheless, you must always follow the style guide you are instructed to use by your university. So, adhere to the APA’s requirements when instructed to do so.
B. When You’re Not Using the APA Style
Again, you should always ask your professor or faculty which style guide they expect you to follow. Unlike the APA, most style guides don’t specify which tense you must use specifically for citations. If your style guide doesn’t specify which tense you must use, then I recommend you follow this guide below which aligns to standard academic conventions in Australia.
Aside from the APA style, the three standard tenses for citing your researched sources are the present simple, the past simple and the present perfect simple. Note, other tenses may be used in varying unique contexts (e.g. the past perfect simple: ‘Johnson (2014) had previously concluded the opposite, however, in a study on…’). However, the most common and typically recommended tenses remain these three.
B.1 Present Simple
Arguably, the single most common tense used in Australian academic writing when citing sources is the present simple. This is because we use researched data and facts which are still true or relevant today. The present simple is used to indicate that the theory, idea or concept being cited is one which you agree with or is widely accepted as a constant fact and always true.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (2018) states that the Murray River is the longest Australia river at 2,508 kilometres.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018) asserts that agricultural businesses operate across 51% of Australia’s total land area.
B.2 Past Simple
Contrary to the use of the present simple, we can also use the past simple to suggest that the research is no longer accepted as true. However, this use of the past simple is rare since we rarely refer to sources which are no longer accepted as true.
Conniver (2016) suggested that the Murray River is 2,520 kilometres long. However, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (2018) states…
Jacobs (2014) claimed that approximately six percent of Australian land is suitable for farming. The Australia Bureau of Statistics (2018), however, asserts…
B.3 Past Simple
We more commonly use the past simple when we focus on how the events, research or survey were conducted in the past, especially when a time reference is used. That is, you’re focusing specifically on the act of that past research rather than how the research results impact the paper you are writing right now.
Jensen and Ellis (2017) monitored the decline in vegetation along the Murray River over a 10-year period.
In 2017, Davis (2018) investigated how the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was not delivering on its planned goals.
B.4 Present Perfect Simple
The present perfect simple may be used in citations which serve to highlight the direct relevance of previous studies to your own research or other current or future events.
Relevant to this study, Jensen and Ellis (2017) have concluded that some species of flora have completely disappeared from certain sections of the Murray River.
In what will hopefully be considered in Murray-Darling Basin Inquiry, Davis (2018) has argued that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is not delivering on its planned goals.
B.5 Present Perfect Simple
However, the present perfect simple is most commonly used in referring to multiple sources with a range of dates or broad generalisations about multiple past studies without listing their specific dates.
While some influential figures (Durkin 2007, Ridley 2015, Trump 2012) have said that current global warming is a fallacy, just as many science organisations have challenged this belief (Australian Academy of Science 2015, Global Carbon Project 2010, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013).
Researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (2018) have found that global warming is causing a decrease in nitrogen, a nutrient necessary for terrestrial vegetation to grow.
Tip: Verbs Used to Cite Authors
Using a broad range of vocabulary in academic writing results in improved reader engagement and, therefore, a better grade and a higher chance of your paper being published in a journal. The University of New South Wales provides the following broad range of verbs for citing the authors of your source texts accordingly.
Tip: bookmark this page on your computer so you can refer to this range of verbs frequently whenever you’re typing an assignment.
- X states that . . .
- X claims that . . .
- X asserts that . . .
- X agrees that . . .
- X strongly argues . . .
- X comments that . . .
- X suggests that . . .
- X says that . . .
- X observes that . . .
- X takes the view that . . .
- X contends that . . .
- X believes that . . .
- X proposes that . . .
- X concludes that . . .
- X maintains that . . .
- X concedes that . . .
- X notes that . . .
- According to X . . .
- As X states . . .
Task: Verb Tenses for Citing Sources
The APA style requires you to use only the past simple or present perfect simple when citing sources academically. Therefore, this task section assumes you’re not using the APA style and that you have a wider range of tenses available to you for citations.
Task: not bound to the APA style, fill in each blank with the verb given, putting it in one of the above three tenses for citing sources. Check with your local English teacher if you have answers different from mine provided.
Answer clues: (1) B1/B4, (2) B3, (3) B1/B4, (4) B2, (5) B1/B5, (6) B1/B4, (7) B5, (8) B1/B4 (9) B3, (10) B1/B5.
This article was proofread with Grammarly.