Quick question mainly to those of you in Psychology (but guess could crop up in any area) I'm struggling with my use of tense in written work. I'm trying to describe my cognitive test battery in terms of what the participants had to do in each task. I can decide whether to use past or present tense, and whether to talk about one participant or plural.

For example

The participant is instructed to read each word out loud
The participants are instructed to read each word out loud
The participant was instructed to read each word out loud
The participants were instructed to read each word out loud

I have a copy of an excellent thesis (sups words) who went with option 1, as does Lezak in Neuropsychological Assessment. I find this an odd way to talk about what I did do on the other hand I'm not sure.


I'd go for singular, unless the tests were done on several simulatneously, in which case plural, and past.

The only one I have difficulty with is active or passive. I've always used the passive voice, and always been told to do so, but read many good papers using the active voice "We administered xxx to rats", or "We tested whether the response to xxxxx".


Not my field,

In spite of this, I would say always use the past tense when referring to methodologies. In my area all methods are described in the past tense only, eg "resuspended cell cultures were seeded at a density of 10,000 cells per coverslip" or "slices were incubated at 37 degrees for one hour"

Hope this is vaguely useful


oh, and passive voice always as well.


Thanks for the input. I was thinking past tense, but reading the present tense thesis it did kind of make sense. Many of the tests I've used are commonly used ones, and hence I'm not just saying how I administered them, but also how they should be done, and how they will be done in the future. Maybe present tense gets that accross. The text book I've been looking at uses this as in "In the administration of this test the participant is instructed xyz"

Anyone else got a view?


I learnt it like this:

Past tense for what you did (you instructed the participant). As well past tense if it is the finding/new or adopted method obtained/used in one study (xy instructed). If you are, however, talking about sth broadly accepted by a variety of researchers (normally been found in a review paper or a textbook), it goes in Present Tense.
Dont know if that makes sense to you. Following that, it might happen as well that you change between tenses within e.g. a paragraph (if you write how you did, how it is commonly done and how it will be done).