Prefer English equivalents over Latin and Greek abbreviations

An educated literary style once included the use of a number of Latin and Greek terms, particularly in footnotes. These are seldom seen in literary works today, and almost never in biological or medical publications. Avoid abbreviations such as loc. cit. (in the place cited), op. cit. (in the work cited), and ibid. (in the same work). For viz., substitute "namely"; for circa use "about." The use of etc. (and so forth), while still acceptable, is rapidly falling out of favor; it commonly is not italicized (underlined).

The abbreviations below are still permissible, but are preferably confined to parenthetical references. However, their English equivalent is acceptable or even preferred. Punctuate as for their English equivalent. All these abbreviations are increasingly being used without italics and without periods.

cf. (confer, compare)

e.g. (exempli gratia, for example)

et al. (et alii, and others; note that the al. requires a period, but et does not)


When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books You will be reading meanings.

Numbers are the heart and soul of most scientific research. If they are not reported clearly, a paper's value can be compromised or lost entirely. But while few dispute their importance, many are willing to debate fine points of how they best should be expressed. Should the number ten be written out or expressed as a numeral? Should large numbers be given scientific notation? What should be done with a series that includes numbers of very different magnitude?

One way to handle the situation is by edict. For example, many scientific journals now use Arabic numerals in preference to words for almost every situation in which a number is used. Check the Instructions to Authors for your intended journal, and follow their lead.

In the absence of a clear edict, however, the following guidelines may help. Whatever style of expressing numbers you adopt, remember to be consistent.

Numerals versus written numbers

Deciding whether to use numerals or words to express numbers can seem problematic because various systems exist. The most conservative style of scientific writing uses figures (numerals) to express numbers 10 and above, and uses words to express numbers below 10 except when they are used as page numbers, as figure and table numbers, or with units of measurement. Several exceptions and instances of special usage expand on this rule. This conservative style is summarized in Table 7.5.

Table 7.6 summarizes the opposite situation - cases where conservative use specifies that numbers should be expressed as words. In general, the numbers

Fine-tune number use Table 7.5. Use numerals - conservative rules

General guideline

All numbers 10 and above

Numbers that immediately precede a unit of measurement Numbers with decimals; fractions that include whole numbers Numbers that represent statistical or mathematical functions or results; percentages; ratios Numbers that represent exact times or dates; ages; size of samples, subsamples or populations; specific numbers of subjects in an experiment; scores and points on a scale; exact sums of money; numerals as numerals Numbers below 10 that are grouped for comparison with numbers 10 and above in the same paragraph Numbers that denote a specific place in a numbered series; parts of books and tables; each number in a list of four or more numbers.

Examples trial 14; 35 animals; 16 genera of legumes a wing 10 cm long; 35 mg of drug; 21 days

7.38 mm; 4 1/2 hours multiply by 5; fewer than 6%; 3.75 times as many; the 2nd quartile

About 3 weeks ago, at 1:00 a.m. on January 25, 2000, the 25-year-old patients with IQscores above 125 all awoke simultaneously in the nursing home at 125 Oak Street. They were paid $25 apiece to go back to sleep.

4 of 16 analyses; the 1st and 15th of the 25 responses; lines 2 and 21

Trial 6; Grade 9 (but the ninth grade); the groups consisted of 5, 9, 1, and 4 animals, respectively.

Table 7.6. Use words - conservative rules for situations in which numbers should be written as words

General guideline

Numbers below 10 that do not represent precise measurements; numbers used in an indefinite, approximate, or general manner

Numbers below 10 that are grouped for comparison with numbers below 10

Any number that begins a sentence, title, or heading (but reword to avoid this whenever possible)

Common fractions (those without whole numbers)

The numbers zero and one when words would be easier to comprehend than figures, or the words do not appear in context with numbers 10 and above

Examples five conditions; trials were repeated four times; a one-tailed t test; a three-way interaction; about thirty years old the second of four stimuli; five of eight living animals; in six cases, the disease lasted five times as long as in the other four.

Five patients improved, and 15 did not. Sixty-nine percent of the sample was contaminated. one quarter; reduced by half; a three-quarters majority a one-line computer code; zero-based budgeting; one animal gave birth (but only 1 in 18 gave birth).

below 10 would be written, once again subject to a number of modifications. Ordinal numbers, which express degree or sequence, may follow the same rules (third, 15th). Alternatively they may be expressed as numerals whatever their size unless they are single words (fourth, nineteenth, 44th).

When several numbers appear in the same sentence or paragraph, express them all in the same way, regardless of other rules and guidelines. Generally, Arabic numerals would be used whenever you have three or more numbers in a series, even if each of the numbers were below 10.

The 7 dogs, 8 cats, 9 mice, and 6 gerbils were exposed to applications of flea powder.

The analysis revealed 22 complete answers, 4 incomplete responses, and 7 illegible ones.

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