I'm editing a medicine article and in the introduction the author writes

We report this case of a 25-year-old female with cholestatic hepatitis

Isn't this simple present strange here? Shouldn't it be

we are going to report


this article reports?

  • You may be interested in my note "You can go a long way in the present tense" in the context of technical manuscripts. The simple present tense is quite useful for presenting a scientific article to the reader in real time. The use of "We are going to..." or "In Section II, we will..." is generally not necessary in a short paper; you are reporting the results now, and there's no guarantee that your reader is progressing through the sections in order. – Chemomechanics Jan 9 '19 at 19:49

In scientific writing it is quite common to use the simple present to describe the actions of the paper and its contents or the intentions of the authors in writing the paper.

For example:

The authors propose a new standard method for data analysis.

The figure illustrates the stimulus pattern.

The results contradict previous studies.

I believe this is a common practice because those actions are happening in the reader's present each time the article is read. The simple present is preferred over the progressive, e.g. "the results are indicating", because the actions occur repeatedly, each time a new reader looks at the article. (This is just like how "the bus stops here" is for the repeated actions while "the bus is stopping here" describes the current situation.)

Sometimes the past tense is used to describe methods and results (since those happened prior to publication), but the intended impact of the publication is usually still in present tense.

Future tense, e.g. "we will report", is usually reserved for actions that will occur after the article is printed. "Future collaborations will expand on these results." (Also note that future constructions with "will" are more formal than constructions with "going to".)

As for "this article reports" vs "we report", both of those choices use simple present. Some authors choose to avoid using 1st person pronouns ("I" and "we"), but that choice is not unanimous and differs across various domains.

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  • I agree with the answer, but the question was about the present as opposed to the continuous, and you don't address that possibility. – Colin Fine Jan 9 '19 at 17:44
  • @ColinFine I don't see anything in the question about the continuous, except in the future construction "going to" which I address. – Tashus Jan 9 '19 at 19:02
  • You're right, @Tashus, I misread it. Apologies – Colin Fine Jan 9 '19 at 22:41

The present continuous is rarely used in this context. Mostly this is just the convention of that kind of writing; but it is also a convention of present-tense narrative.

If the writer of a paper used a continuous form (We are investigating) it would be taken to mean that, separately from whatever this paper is about the writers are currently pursuing that investigation. This might be about a larger research project of which the findings in this paper are a part; or some investigation only tangentially related to the paper.

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  • 1
    I don't see any examples of the present continuous by the OP, just "going to + verb" to express intention in the near future as in "we are going to report" – Mari-Lou A Jan 9 '19 at 18:33
  • You're quite right. I misread it. I was going to delete this answer, but somebody has upvoted it, so somebody has found it of value. – Colin Fine Jan 9 '19 at 22:40

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