When in doubt spell it out

Here is a quick summary of some places not to abbreviate. Unless an abbreviation is internationally accepted (DNA, RNA), avoid using it in the title or abstract. Titles and abstracts are often translated into foreign languages, where readers may find the abbreviations perplexing.

Do not begin a sentence with an abbreviation. Do not abbreviate generic names when they are used alone. (Drosophila melanogaster or D. melanogaster is acceptable, but never simply D.orD.m.) Do not abbreviate units of measurement when they are used without numerals. (Never write "Several ml. were added.") Finally, do not abbreviate when confusion might result from doing so. If two words have the same abbreviation, both should be spelled out.

Noun clusters and strings of pearls

In English, a noun can be used to modify or describe another noun. Such noun clusters are common in our language, adding variety and flexibility to writing.


5 Revising to increase coherence

Exercise 5.3. Shortened forms

The following abbreviations are used incorrectly. Why?


A title: Assay for TCGF Activity in SPAFAS Chickens in the U.S.


An abstract: The present study provides first evidence for the pres

ence of TCGF in supernatants of Con A stimulated chicken spleen

cells incubated for several hrs.


A text sentence: Con A stimulated BALB/C spleen cells were used

to prepare TCGF preparations by the MF I and MF II methods.


A table title: Distribution of ATPase in El treated membranes

expressed as |/mg of protein and total U.


A footnote: Pheasants were obtained from hatcheries in Ala., TN,

and S. Carolina.

For example, liver disease (a two-noun cluster) and hepatic disease (an adjective and a noun) have the same meaning, and may be used interchangeably.

Two-noun clusters are acceptable, even desirable, and usually cause no problems. However, scientists have a tendency to take this ability to extremes, running together whole series of nouns (and adjectives) that modify one another and the final noun in the chain, until the reader becomes lost. This construction - several modifiers stacked up in front of a noun - has been dubbed a "string of pearls" (Table 5.5). Consider this excellent example that was actually published:

Five two week old single comb white leghorn specific pathogen free chickens were inoculated with approximately 105 tissue culture infected doses of duck adenovirus. [Which nouns are substantive and which are modifiers?]

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