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What are the best rules for scientific papers to decide whether to put a sentence in simple past or present perfect tense?

Example

Shapiro et al. (2012) use present perfect in the following sentence:

In this study, we have uncovered an important and unexpected mechanism [...]

Versus:

In this study, we uncovered an important and unexpected mechanism [...]

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This bleeds into a question of personal taste — there's no editorial stanard dictating one form or another — but as a rule of thumb I think it best to keep things in the simple, declarative present-tense where possible. E.g.:

In this study, we uncover an important and unexpected mechanism [...]

Present tense statements have the dual advantage of sounding solid and authoritative, and of drawing the reader along with you as the argument develops (as though you are showing them in real time what you are doing, not telling them after the fact what you did). It may sound a little imperious until you get used to it, but keep in mind that when you write an academic paper you are explicitly presenting yourself as an authority on the subject matter. Don't be squeamish about acting the part.

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  • Dear Ted Wrigley, this is very interesting and gives me something to think about, thank you very much!
    – thando
    Jan 27 at 15:17
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  • Use simple past tense for the claims that were true in the past but no longer relevant/true etc.
  • Use present perfect tense for the claims that were true and still true claims.

This is a technique for you to use while writing scientific papers. Since you would like to support your position, you can use this technique to subtly improve position of your paper.

Examples:

After the first paper about support vector machines, hundreds of studies published.

This usage subtly imply that support Vector machines are no longer very important.

After the first paper about neural networks, thousands of studies have been published.

This usage imply that neural networks are still very important.

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