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Suppose someone is writing a recommendation letter.

At the time of this writing, he is/was doing another independent research project in applied mathematics.

Which tense should I use here?

From the viewpoint of the writer, it should be the present tense as it is happening at the same as he is writing the letter. From the viewpoint of readers( Admissions officers), who will read it months later, it should be the past tense because it is in the past.

2 Answers 2

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I would read the form:

At the time of this writing, he was doing another independent research project in applied mathematics

as a careless error.

I would always use "is" or another present-tense form after "At the time of this writing" because that is what is happening as I write. I don't know whether the recipient of a letter of recommendation will read it two days or two years later. But even when I know that my words will be read much later, I would use the present tense.

Say i am writing a book about my work. I might include a passage such as:

At the time of writing, I am developing a new syntax for this feature which I hope to have adopted.

I know that from drafting the manuscript, it normally takes two years or more before such a book is in the hands of readers. Nevertheless, i write from the point of view of the present, not the predicted future. By saying explicitly "at the time of writing" I emphasize this choice of point-of-view.

I could instead use a progressive form, but then I would not include the phrase "at the time of writing". For example

Recently, i have been developing a new syntax for this feature which I hope to have adopted.

Similarly, the OP could use "has been", but not along with "at the time of writing", in my view.

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    I wish the downvoter would comment on the problems s/he sees with this answer, so I could perhaps improve it, or a reader could be informed of them. Jul 12, 2019 at 15:10
  • I see no reason why this perfectly rational answer would have been downvoted.
    – bonbonez
    Dec 30, 2020 at 15:58
  • @bonbonez Thank you for the praise. Dec 30, 2020 at 16:00
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Because of At the time of this writing and From the viewpoint of readers( Admissions officers), who will read it months later, it would make more sense to use the past tense, i.e. was

At the time of this writing, he was doing another independent research project in applied mathematics

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  • Your logic is sound, but I think there's also an argument to be made for using the present tense. I definitely see the present tense used in this situation very often, maybe even more often than the past tense. I would say that both are correct and simply impart a slightly different flavor to the sentence.
    – TypeIA
    Jul 11, 2019 at 15:02

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