Tables in Report Writing: Presented or Present?

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published December 9, 2013, updated June 3, 2014
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Here is a interesting client grammar question related to technical report writing. I've never been asked this before, nor seen it specifically addressed anywhere. 

At the end of a paragraph in a technical report, which of the following would you prefer?

“Details are present in Table 3.”


“Details are presented in Table 3.”

I checked the major style guides, and none address this specifically, even the technical guides.

It makes sense this is not specifically addressed in the style guides because this really is a simple issue of tense and choice of using a verb or adjective to better convey meaning.

Present is one of those maddening English words that can actually be a noun, verb, and adjective.

Used as a Verb and Noun: Present is a present tense verb. Presented is a past tense verb. (This assumes we are using present to mean conveying information, as opposed to using the noun form of present, which means a gift.)

Used as an Adjective: 

|priˈzent| adjective
a doctor must be present at the ringsidein attendancehere, there, near, nearby, (close/near) at hand, available. ANTONYMS absent.

organic compounds are present in the wastein existenceexisting, existent. ANTONYMS absent.

Present used as an adjective indicates the information is there, but not really conciously placed there. Therefore, present, as an adjective, would technically be grammatically correct. However, the usage is odd.

Logically, one would neither write nor read a table at the same time one is in another area of the report, so "presented," as a verb is the better choice, since it indicates the information was placed there, and placed there in the verb form meaning of giving information. Yes, this questions really illustrates how English grammar can be very confusing!

In nearly all the scientific and technical report writing I see, tables and other illustrative materials are indicated with " presented in Table 3." That meaning makes more sense. "As presented" (verb) connotes deliberate placement. "As present" (adjective) just means it's there. Subtle distinction, but "presented" is better.

I have seen " present in Table 3" a few times in reports, and it looks very odd to the eye.

I recommend you use "presented" when referencing tables and graphs in reports.

Technical and scientific writers, and my grammar friends: would you use presented or present?

Mary Cullen
Post by Mary Cullen
Originally published December 9, 2013, updated June 3, 2014
Mary founded Instructional Solutions in 1998, and is an internationally recognized business writing trainer and executive writing coach with two decades of experience helping thousands of individuals and businesses master the strategic skill of business writing. She excels at designing customized business writing training programs to maximize productivity, advance business objectives, and convey complex information. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island, an M.A. in English Literature from Boston College, and a C.A.G.S. in Composition and Rhetoric from the University of New Hampshire.