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Present tense to explain significance of results

In your discussion section you will usually try to explain the significance of the results. The present tense is usually used for this purpose.


Removal of vegetation for agricultural purposes appears to negatively affect the water quality of streams.

Past tense to summarise findings, with present tense to interpret results

However, writers may use the past tense to summarise the findings, in combination with the present tense to explain or interpret what the results mean.

Look at the next two examples.

Example 1

As the maxima and minima did not correspond to high and low tides, it is possible that the patterns observed may not be the result of mixing of waters with different concentrations.

Example 2

Leaf carbon and phenolic content did not differ across sites, indicating that the response of secondary plant chemicals such as phenolics to water is complex.

Note that in example 1 the phrases it is possible that and may not be are used to indicate that other explanations are possible. This is an example of the use of limiting words to discuss findings in an academically tentative way.

Example 2, on the other hand, is less tentative. If you make a statement such as this, you are confident that your results and conclusion are correct.

Check the section above on making tentative statements.

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