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Appendix 15. Scientific Style: When to Use It, How to Use It

Appendix 15. Scientific Style: When to Use It, How to Use It

We’ve all seen the options in the drop-down menu on the CETM form: scientific style or humanities style? What does scientific style really mean, and how do we know when to apply it in copyediting a manuscript?

The following is a summary of scientific style and situations in which to use it.

Scientific Notation

Slashes are accepted style for expressing the relationship of two elements, such as milliliters per kilogram (ml/kg). However, when more than two elements are used to describe a relationship, slashes should be avoided. For example, ml/kg/min is ambiguous because the slashes can be interpreted as division signs. So 5 ml/kg/min can be interpreted either as 5 milliliters per kilogram per minute (which is the correct assumption) or as 5 milliliters divided by kilogram divided by minute:

What if a previous edition of a book used ml/kg/min, and we’re specifying that the CE use an O level to edit the current edition? Or even just a low-treatment book that’s not a subsequent edition? If there’s concern about inaccuracy and misinterpretation, it should be corrected in a new edition or in a low-treatment book. But if it’s a low-treatment, low-budget book, and it’s just a style issue that can’t be misconstrued, then you’ll need input from the AcqEd regarding how important it is to make the changes.

Abbreviations: When to Use Them

Ask yourself (or the acquisitions editor) these questions when deciding whether to use abbreviations or spelled-out terms in text:

· What is the subject matter? Is it statistics, biomechanics, and physiology and anatomy? If so, then abbreviations are standard in these types of texts. Sport psychology usually is geared more toward a humanities audience. Sport marketing and sport management are also more humanities style. Therefore, humanities style or a modified scientific style is more appropriate for these texts.

· Who is the target audience? Are abbreviated terms well known and commonly used among the target audience? For example, will it seem stranger to see "anterior cruciate ligament" spelled out every time in the text than the abbreviation "ACL" in the text?

· Is space a concern in the printed book? That is, if you decide to spell out all the abbreviations in the manuscript, will that increase the page count? If so, will that be a problem?

· Are abbreviations already used in the manuscript, and what treatment level has been assigned to the book? If significant changes will be required in order to make the book one way or the other, but the budget or priority is low, you and the AcqEd will want to consider whether it’s acceptable to just make the manuscript consistent, even if the current style doesn’t mesh with your answers to the previous questions in this section.

Here’s an amendment to the style that’s in the online style guide: Don’t use hyphens with abbreviated terms when they’re used as adjectives. Correct examples are a 50 m race; a 12 h study. This is true for any kind of style: humanities, scientific, and anywhere in between.


According to CMS (14th edition) 13.19, decimal fractions in text should be preceded by a zero--0.25, not .25--except for probabilities, which never exceed unity (that is, probabilities cannot be as much as or more than 1).

Placement of Symbols
For less-than or greater-than symbols used as adjectives, place them next to the number:

The subjects were >25 yr. of age.

For less-than or greater-than symbols used as verbs, put spaces around the symbol:

The subjects > 25 yr.

You can do a test to determine whether a greater-than or less-than symbol functions as an adjective or as a verb: If there’s no verb in the sentence, the symbol should stand alone (spaces on each side). If there’s already a verb in the sentence, the symbol should be closed up next to the number.

VO2 and VO2max

There’s been some confusion about when to insert the \od\ code and when to leave it out. The overdot on the V (which the GA inserts when he or she sees the code \od\ after the V) indicates period of time. VO2max means "maximum volume of oxygen uptake over a period of time." Therefore, the \od\ is always required in VO2max. But what about plain old VO2? Here’s what Roger Earle, the author of Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Second Edition, says:

Technically, editorial staff would have to determine from context whether an overdot is necessary in each instance of VO2...but if the unit for VO2 is "per minute" (as basically all of them are), then you would use the overdot because it denotes time. There are really no bona fide and commonly used instances in which VO2 would not have a time component.

The reason you often do not see the overdot in other texts (not published by HK) is simply that it is not easily typeable. Most people don’t take the time to create a V+overdot character, and most won’t go back and handwrite the dot in on a printed document. That’s it--that’s why! If people don’t type it, publishers don’t see it in submitted manuscripts, so it’s not often seen in publications.

--Roger Earle (2004)

Degrees Celsius

Let me correct and clarify this rule. Before February 2005, here’s what it said in HK style guide: ° C = degrees Celsius (centigrade): 10° C.

But that’s incorrect. International System of Units (SI) says to use the number and then a space and then °C, as in 32 °C.

Appendix 9 of the online style guide has a list of common scientific abbreviations.

International System of Units (SI)

The following information is from

Correct Incorrect
35 mm 35mm 35-mm
75 lm 75lm
0 g 0g
20 °C 20°C 20° C

Do not capitalize spelled-out names, even when the symbol is capitalized (unless all words are capitalized, as in a title, or the unit begins a sentence). Unit and prefix names are common nouns, not proper nouns. [Exception: The C in "degrees Celsius" is capitalized.]
Correct Incorrect
100 watts 100 Watts
100 W 100 w
50 megawatts 50 Megawatts, 50 MW, 50 mw

Use normal (upright) type for unit and prefix symbols. Use italic (slanted) type for quantity, variable, and constant symbols.

Units or prefixes Quantities, variables, or consonants
3 g [grams] 3 g [acceleration of gravity]
m [meter] m [mass]
c [centi] c [speed of light]

Use a zero in front of a leading decimal point so the point won’t become "lost."

Correct Incorrect
0.5 m .5 m

Of course, the exception is in indicating probabilities, in which case a numeral before a decimal would be illogical because in a probability there’s no possibility for a number equal to or higher than 1.

Use decimals, not fractions. Do not use more than one prefix with a unit or a mixture of units.
Correct Incorrect
8.5 kg  
3.15 m 3 m 15 cm
30 nm 30 mµm

Do not mix symbols with spelled-out names in the same expression.

Correct Incorrect
5 kg/L 5 kg/liter 5 kg per L
5 kilograms per liter 5 kilograms/liter

Do not attach extra information to a unit symbol.

Correct Incorrect
120 V (alternating current) 120 VAC
120 V (ac) 120 Vac

In a compound unit, it’s best to attach a prefix only to the left-hand or numerator unit so that quantities will be easy to compare. Exception: because kilogram is the base unit, kilogram (not gram) is generally used in the denominator.

Preferred Avoid
mN·m N·mm
Mg/m3 g/cm3
kW/m2 W/cm2
MJ/kg kJ/g

Don’t use more than one slash (/) or "per" in a compound unit. To prevent confusion, insert parentheses or use negative exponents.

Correct Incorrect
J/(kg·K) or J·kg-1 J/kg/K J/kg·K
joule per kilogram kelvin joule per kilogram per kelvin
  [The above expressions are ambiguous because they could mean either J/(kg/K) or (J/kg)/K, which are not the same]

Examples of Scientific Text in HK Books

The following are examples of various styles used in actual STM texts and the reasons those styles were used. As you’ll see, some texts use more of a humanities style and others use pure scientific style.

McGinnis, Biomechanics of Sport and Exercise

This is a chapter-opening scenario in which I’d advise a copyeditor to use spelled-out units of measure because we want to draw the reader in to the text in a more conversational mode than what is used in running text. Abbreviations in chapter- and part-opening scenarios are too jarring to the reader:

You’re sitting in the gym contemplating your next lat pull on the weightlifting machine when you notice that the stack of weight that you’re about to lift doesn’t look heavy enough to be the 90 pounds indicated by the label on the weights. But, when you sit down on the bench and pull down on the bar, it feels like 90 pounds. How do the pulleys, levers, and cables of the machine make a relatively small stack of metal plates feel like 90 pounds? The answer has to do with the torques created by the weight stack and those pulleys, levers, and cables. This chapter introduces the concepts of torque and center of gravity, and it adds to the concept of static equilibrium.

Perrin, Athletic Taping and Bracing

This is an STM book but the audience is athletic trainers, coaches, and anyone who would administer first aid to athletes. Therefore, for this text we decided that it’s most logical to use spelled-out units of measure instead of abbreviations. The DE chose to use spelled-out terms for the vocabulary as well (e.g., anterior cruciate ligament instead of ACL). This was done to prevent confusion. If we’d chosen to use abbreviations for vocabulary throughout the text, readers probably would have been confused. One or two abbreviations per chapter wouldn’t be confusing, but when you’re dealing with 10 or more abbreviations for anatomical terms in a textbook that’s intended to be used as a practical instruction manual, the text ends up too intimidating for many users. In Perrin, abbreviations were given on first mention of a term, however, but that probably was done so that the readers would be able to recognize an abbreviation if they saw it elsewhere.
Ray, Management Strategies in Athletic Training, Second Edition
Mainly a humanities style was used. No abbreviations were used in running text. Percent symbol was used. Numerals were used for units of measure. Money was discussed, so symbols and numerals were used often in one chapter.

Carpenter, Title IX

An STM book, but it’s not technical, scientific, or medical. No abbreviations are used. Audience is athletic directors and program administrators. The text is more humanities style because of the subject matter.
Houglum, Therapeutic Exercise for Musculoskeletal Injuries
This text uses scientific style. Here’s a section explaining how the practitioner might note a patient’s condition. This would be full of abbreviations and acronyms, which are appropriate because these are symbols that a practitioner would commonly use. The audience for this book would be familiar with the terminology (codes for multiplication symbol, \x\, appear in this example):

O: Objective
Objective notes record what is done in the treatment session. They also include any objective measurements or evaluations you perform, for example, "ROM L knee = 115°. Leg press, L with 90 lb, 3 \x\ 15. Heel raises on L only, 3 \x\ 20, no wt. Ice L knee 15 min 3\x\/d." Many organizations use an exercise record sheet as part of their objective reporting. Figure 4.11a is a sample of an exercise record sheet, and 4.11b is an example of how an exercise record sheet could be filled out for a few treatment sessions. This is particularly useful in rehabilitation, where many exercises may be used from one treatment session to the next. It saves time by reducing paperwork and needless repetition, yet still provides an accurate record of treatment.

Gavin, Lifestyle Fitness Coaching

This is an STM book that is geared toward humanities audiences. For this type of manuscript, use a modified scientific style, such as numerals for all quantities but spelled-out (not abbreviated) units of measure, as in this example of a case study:

Intervals between coaching sessions may lengthen from a week to a month to finally 6 months. In coaching relations of shorter duration, the work may be highly focused or time limited. Some coaches may prefer to work with contracts of 10 to 12 weeks and then schedule a 3-month follow-up.

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