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Frequently during episodes of Star Trek: TNG, we would hear Captain Picard (or sometimes other characters) read out his log entries. It was fairly apparent that out-of-universe this was often intended to provide context and reminders of the plotline after commercial breaks.

However, in-universe, the log was indeed something 'real': sometimes we see characters refer back to their or others' logs (Memory Alpha concurs).

Often, though, the log entry was spoken as if in present tense, despite the fact there was clearly no logical point at which they could have updated it. Just one example of many is Episode 10 of Series 1 of TNG: 'Hide and Q'. After returning from the first break, we hear:

Captain's Log: Supplemental: "Our rescue mission ... has been halted by an ... untimely visit from Q".

Yet Q is standing right in front of him both before the event and after the log entry is read out - surely he couldn't have updated the log?

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    I do recall occasions where we see the action of the captain recording their captain's log. Usually by hitting a button on the computer interface and dictating to the computer either in private or on the bridge. – BBlake Oct 12 '12 at 18:12
  • @BBlake, yes. In fact, that very episode has an example of him attempting to do that 10 minutes further in - it's not possible because of issues related to Q, but it's clearly what he's attempting. – Andrew Ferrier Oct 12 '12 at 18:14
  • @BBlake I believe it's also been shown once or twice onscreen being done with the combadge... But it wasn't clear whether the combadge was transmitting it or storing it. – Izkata Oct 12 '12 at 22:45
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    "I'll be in my Ready Room" – Brian Ortiz Oct 13 '12 at 1:45
  • While the timeline was not as shown, this does not preclude that Picard uttered that very statement as a part of a log entry at some other point after meeting Q. So, rather thanthe content, it may be the timing and selection of excerpts that is subject to artistic license. – O. R. Mapper Dec 21 '15 at 11:36
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Google Now + Evernote. Well, their 23rd century FUP equivalents.

You are dealing with a super-powerful computer, for which recoding (video, audio and other sensors) everything that happened on the ship is trivial.

All that the Captain needs to do is pick the important pieces of the recordings and, upon reviewing them after the events (hence, past tense), add captions/thoughts.

To address your Q discrepancy, I am firmly convinced that reciting the log "as things happened" was merely a break-the-fourth-wall artistic license, to help with the narrative. The past tense is the best indicator of it, as you noted.

Please note that Wikipedia agrees: ("Use in fiction"), though with as much lack of citing as I do above:

  • The Hornblower series mentions logs to explain plot development, or to make the story more realistic.
  • Reading a log can make a dramatic explanation of a mysterious disaster in most sci-fi.
  • In Star Trek the Captain's log, a form of ship's log, is used to fill in the audience as to the events in progress, and acts as a more realistic form of soliloquy.

Memory Alpha confirms the fourth wall point:

... it should be noted that in some of the first episodes of the original series, Kirk's log sometimes broke the fourth wall and described information that neither he nor the crew could be aware of.
For example, in "The Naked Time", Kirk describes "... but unknown to us...".

There clearly wasn't time to make some other log entries; for instance, in "By Any Other Name", Kirk appears to have made a log entry about a his crew's skulduggery against the episode's villain while he, Kirk, is sitting next to that same villain. (Perhaps Kirk recorded the log entry during the commercial break!)

Presumably, these log entries were created after the events had transpired, when the Captain had time to update his log, and it was either Starfleet procedure or just Kirk's personal habit to record such logs in the present tense.

  • Note: whoever tried to edit my answer, I thing SFF disabled your edit since I saved my later edit. Please be so kind to re-edit if necessary. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 12 '12 at 17:53
  • That was me. I'll re-edit in a bit. I find your citation from Memory Alpha re: Kirk helpful. I don't think of this really convinces me that this would be valid in-universe though. Even if the captain were adding log entries after the fact to recorded events, why would it make sense to record them in the present tense? That's not normally how narration is done. Unless he knew he was making a TV programme :) – Andrew Ferrier Oct 12 '12 at 17:56
  • @AndrewFerrier - " has been halted" is not present tense (admittedly, I'm ESL :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 12 '12 at 17:59
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    OK, technically it's Present Perfect: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Present_perfect. But I don't think that really alters the question... – Andrew Ferrier Oct 12 '12 at 18:02
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    @AndrewFerrier - my understanding from my long-ago English grammar classes was that, for the purposes of your interest, present perfect is semantically closer to past tense than present. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 12 '12 at 18:10
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I expect it's the captain's prerogative to dictate his logs in whatever tense he deems appropriate, just like writers do. Usually though, writers write in past tense. Additionally, though it isn't shown, it is highly probable that as Picard dictates his log he is lining up his log with sensor readings from the computer, and as such the present tense seems more smooth than past tense. He is (re)"viewing" the Enterprise being halted by Q, and dictates that "Our mission...has been halted...".

Out of universe this adds suspense to the viewer, as the present tense gives us the sense that we don't know what is happening next.

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Captain's Log: Supplemental: "Our rescue mission ... has been halted by an ... untimely visit from Q".

The "Supplemental" bit indicates that this was added into the log afterward.

Presumably log supplements use the present-tense format because the rest of the logs do, and it's easier to follow them if they use the same tense (both for us as out-of-universe viewers, and for in-universe characters playing them back afterward).

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