Citation, Documentation of Sources
Q. Dear Chicago, what verb tense do you recommend for the literature review section of a scholarly article? APA insists on the past tense, arguing that any work included in a literature review was obviously published in the past. People writing about English literature, on the other hand, discuss works in the present tense because readers always experience the book in the present. I’m editing a Canadian public policy journal, and the author uses the present tense to discuss works published ten or fifteen years ago. Should I change these tenses to the present perfect? The journal has no in-house rule on this.
A. Since the use of the present tense in literature reviews is widely accepted, and since any decision about where to cut off “past” from “present” literature would have to be arbitrary, using the present tense for everything is a fine option. You shouldn’t worry about using it if a journal doesn’t express a preference.