I am writing case studies and stuck with this:

The client was from the IT field and ...

The problem with this is should I use 'was' or 'is'.

Now, the client's status as on today is also the same, but when I am writing this case study, it should mention the client's status when we had this project on the floor. In other words, case studies are always in past because you're describing something that happened then. But, as far as the status or background is concerned it is the fact even today.

So, should we use past or present tense in such cases?

  • 1
    Similarly, the client had/has an expertise in iOS technology! Good question.
    – Maulik V
    Aug 13, 2016 at 6:03
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    If the case study describes a project which is still ongoing, use the present. If the project is no longer in progress, use the past. Aug 13, 2016 at 6:11
  • Mr Dant. That looks like a good answer, why is it only a comment?
    – djna
    Aug 13, 2016 at 6:14
  • Laziness, I'm afraid, and the sense that as soon as I spend 20 minutes framing a cogent answer replete with references and bons mots, @StoneyB will follow up with an answer which renders mine inane by comparison. Aug 13, 2016 at 6:16
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    If you imagine that this construction is unusual or inappropriate, I can only say that you are mistaken. It is a perfectly plausible way to deal with this conundrum in English. However, in most such cases, the past would be used without any concern for the current status of the subject of the case study. Aug 13, 2016 at 6:33

1 Answer 1


Consider a situation where you called on Tom at his home. The following day, you can say to a mutual acquaintance

Tom was at home yesterday

In this context, it is neutral about where Tom is now. He could be still at home: he could be somewhere else.

Now suppose that, when you were at Tom's house, you asked him where he came from, and he replied

I am from London.

When you tell your mutual acquaintance, you say to him

Tom said he was from London. - reported speech - backshifted
Tom is from London - direct statement

You can use is because Tom is definitely still from London.

Similarly, when you interview your client, you might get these answers:

My name is Tom
I am 34 years old
I work at XYZ bank
My background is in IT
I work in accounts

When you are writing up your report a few months later, you would be obliged to say

His name is Tom - still true
He was 34 years old - at the time of the interview
He worked at XYZ bank - at the time of the interview
His background is in IT - still true
He worked in accounts - at the time of the interview

I am not suggesting that you should always switch between present and past like this: it is just an example that shows how you can express these ideas precisely if required.

If it's not necessary to be precise and you have multiple items of information, it's probably best to stick to whichever is the most common of present or past: the context will usually be enough to avoid misunderstanding.

If precision is important, it depends exactly what you mean by "from the IT field". If it means "His training is in IT", then it's still true, so you should use is. If it means "He is currently working in IT", you should use was.

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