Use specialized symbols and notations sparingly and with care

In many scientific professions, communication depends heavily upon specialized notations such as symbols, equations, and formulas. These also are a type of illustration. They often appear on a line by themselves, like an in-text table. If complex, they may be submitted as a camera-ready photograph or digital file, like other artwork (see Chapter 3).

Scientific symbols and notations often express thoughts not easily or efficiently expressed as words. However, they have many drawbacks. They slow typing and word processing speed. They increase printing costs. And most importantly, they provide a stumbling block for audiences unfamiliar with them. Use such notation judiciously, explaining specialized symbols as necessary and carefully following the recommendations in a comprehensive style manual for your field.

Express mathematical formulations clearly. Short and simple equations, such as x = 3y — 1, should be set directly into the text, as done here. If a document has a great many equations that are referred to repeatedly in the text, they can be displayed (set on a separate line) and identified with consecutive numbers placed in parentheses at the right margin. For clarity, equations set off from the text need

Exercise 7.4. Number use and interpretation

Treat these sentences conservatively, spelling out numbers or changing them to Arabic numerals as appropriate.

1. A full 3/4 (75 percent) of the experimental animals died with 15 hours, but 17 horses (10%) were still alive forty-five days later.

2. The chemicals for the experiment weighed less than 1/5 of a milligram.

3. Approximately 20,500 cells were calculated to be affected.

4. The control group recovered more quickly but a chi-square test of P equals .11 showed the difference was insignificant. We felt this was significant, however, because it showed the drug's effect.

5. The test plot contained ten species of grasses, two species of legumes, six species of trees, and 15 species of cruciferous plants.

to be surrounded by space. Triple-space between displayed equations and normal text. Double-space between one equation and another, and between the lines of multi-line equations. When a series of short equations appear in sequence, align them on their equal signs.

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