Frequently Asked Questions

1 Oct

1. What does it mean to use consistent tenses? 

Verb tense depicts time in an essay. Using different tenses in a sentence or paragraph is incorrect, confusing and distracting. Writers should use one consistent tense throughout their essay, switching tenses only when necessary to show a change in the timing of an action. Generally writers use present tense when writing about original ideas or factual topics. Past tense is used when writing about events that have already occurred or about completed studies or arguments. Future tense should be used when writing about events that have yet to occur but will occur in the future. 

Incorrect: Mary stood (past) up and drops(present) her lunch. 

Correct: Mary stands (present) up and drops (present) her lunch.


Incorrect: All the patientshave (present) recurrent, high-grade glioma and all showed (past) a favorable immune response.

Correct: All the patients had (past) recurrent, high-grade glioma and all showed (past) a favorable immune response.


2. What should a strong introductory paragraph include? And what about the conclusion? 

A strong introductory paragraph serves to “hook” the reader’s attention and provide the read an overview of not only what the paper will be about, but also what your purpose is in writing the paper. The introduction should make the reader interested enough to want to read on, while also giving them enough details about what your paper is about. Most introductions should also include a thesis that acts as a roadmap to explain what you will cover in your paper and what you will prove by the end.

Conclusion paragraphs should not just sum up what you wrote in the paper already, but it also should not be used to introduce new ideas. Answer the “so what” question in your conclusion—“So, I wrote this paper about xyz, so what?” What is so important about your paper that you wanted the reader to read it in the first place? What is the message with which you want the reader to walk away? What is most important that should be repeated. Do not word-for-word repeat your thesis or big points. Create a new way to get that point across.


3. How can I be sure that my thoughts are flowing from one paragraph to another? 

Paragraphs should be ordered logically so that the ideas grow and develop off of each other. There should always be a valid reason to follow paragraph A with paragraph B. Before ordering your paragraphs think about what the reader might need to know early on in the paper and what they can wait to find out. You don’t always want to lead with your best point, but you don’t want to lead with your weakest either. Paragraphs should not be written (or read) in isolation, but should relate to the paragraph before and after. You do not need to start over every time you begin a new paragraph. You should introduce each paragraph’s purpose and idea in a topic sentence at the beginning. Make sure that you sum up and fully conclude one idea before moving to the next paragraph or idea, but make sure that you also relate that idea to what you are going to cover next. You can ensure this by using transition devices. Using words or phrases that signify time, order, consequence, addition, or contrast will help your reader understand the relationship between the ideas.  Transitions really should show the reader the relationship between the two paragraphs and show why this paragraph is following that one. Each transition should be unique and should only be able to connect one paragraph to the one following it. If you are finding it difficult to segue between paragraphs, chances are the paragraphs don’t go together in the first place and the overall paper’s organization should be rethought. 


4. Where can I get help with my References page? 

Visit the Writing Center’s website and blog for videos, tutorials and links for help with Reference pages and other formatting questions. The Writing Center’s website is The Writing Center Blog has links to useful sources here.


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