14 Science, mathematics, and computing
14.1 General principles
14.1.1 Official guidelines
Authors and editors involved in publishing scientific material must be aware of the intended readership and its level of expertise when considering what specialist terminology and stylistic conventions to adopt. Authors of texts involving the ‘harder’ sciences, such as astronomy, biology, chemistry, computing, mathematics, and technology, commonly employ practices different from those in the humanities and social sciences, particularly in those texts aimed at a specialist readership. Authors should follow the standards common in their discipline, as well as any set out for specific contexts, such as series or journal articles. In general, authors and editors should follow the recommendations of the Royal Society and the Système International d’Unités (SI), particularly those for styling symbols and units, which can vary between disciplines. Internal consistency is vital where more than one standard is acceptable, or where recommendations conflict.
If an author has good reason for using a convention different from the norm, they should mention this to the editor early on. As common usage changes more frequently in the sciences than in other disciplines, it is particularly important to clarify variations before editing begins. Many scientific journals have developed their own house style: this will vary according to the subject’s conventions and the readership’s requirements. Authors should be aware that, for reasons of efficiency and speed, this style may be imposed—often automatically by computer software—without the author being consulted.
Authors should avoid introducing a novel notation or non-standard symbols. If non-standard terms are essential to the notation system, authors should consider including a list of symbols in the preliminary matter and supplying the editor with printed examples or a PDF, so that there is no danger of misunderstanding what is intended.
As a requirement of submission, journal authors in particular may need to write in a template downloaded from a publisher’s website. This framework ensures that the document is structured in such a way that encoding for output as print or digital product can be achieved without manual intervention.
Clarity in the presentation and explanation of difficult scientific concepts is to be valued. The principle of maximum clarity underpins most scientific style guidance and should be used to discriminate between alternative solutions to presentational problems.
Authors and editors should take care that hard copy, if used, is clear and unambiguous, and any handwritten notation is kept to a minimum. Whether hard copy or on-screen, ensure the correct character is used for special sorts (accented characters, Greek letters, mathematical symbols). For example, distinguish between:
• numbers 0 and 1 and the letters O and 1
• single (′) and double (") primes and single (’) and double (”) closing quotation marks
• multiplication signs (×) and roman x.
Do not underline the inequality signs < and > to create less-than/greater-than or equal to symbols ≤ and ≥, and degree symbols should not be typed as lower-case superscript ‘o’s. See
Likewise, in electronic documents do not underline text to be set in italic. On hard copy, ensure that any hand-drawn rules above or below letters or whole expressions are not mistaken for underlining for italic.
There are particular issues of clarity involved in typesetting mathematics which affect the choice of typeface (
Scientific illustrations should adhere to the principle of maximum clarity: all unnecessary graphic effects should be eschewed. As far as possible, illustrations and their captions should be self-contained and require no reference to text material to make interpretation of them possible.
Numbers in general are dealt with in
The SI guidelines state that it is preferable to use only numbers between 0.1 and 1000. It is better, therefore, to write 22 km rather than 22 000 metres, or 3 mm3 rather than 0.003 cubic centimetres. Powers of units can be represented exponentially, for example m2 for square metre and cm3 for cubic centimetre.
There are internationally agreed abbreviations for many units (unit symbols), including all those in the SI. When used in full, a unit takes lower case (kilogram, nanometre), even eponymous ones (newton, tesla); when assigned a value, the unit symbol is used, standardly followed by a space (10 kg, 1.435 m), preferably a non-breaking or thin space (
Some units not defined by SI are still compatible with SI units, such as hours, minutes, days, litres. The unit symbol for hour is h not hr and either L or l is acceptable for litre; if L is preferred it should also be used with prefixes such as mL for millilitres.
The unit symbol does not need to be repeated when en rules (dashes) are used to indicate a range (45.6–50.2 kg) unless the unit symbol is closed up (14°–18° [of angle];
Units are derived from other units by multiplication or division (m2, m/s). A product of two or more different units may be separated with a fixed thin or hair space (narrower than a thin space;
14.1.5 Punctuation and spaces
Oxford style is to omit full points at the end of a displayed formula or equation, and internal punctuation is limited to that in or following any interpolated text. Other styles treat formulas and equations as an integral part of the sentence and punctuate accordingly. Text set on the same line as a displayed equation that qualifies some aspect of the equation should be spaced off from the equation by at least one em.
The presence or absence of spaces can alter the meaning of scientific text so care must be taken that they are used appropriately: +5 is a positive integer; + 5 indicates an addition. Spaces come in various widths, either breaking or non-breaking; Unicode fonts have a variety of spaces between 2000 to 200A (hexadecimal) but the two that are used most frequently in technical texts, other than the word space, are the non-breaking space (U+00A0) and the thin space (U+2009) (
It is good practice in scientific writing for all important information to be worked into the text, leaving only matter of secondary interest in notes, such as references, interpretations, and corrections. Since authors in many technical subjects choose to use an author–date (Harvard) style of references (
14.1.7 Eponymic designations
Names identified with specific individuals may be treated in several ways. Traditionally a disease, equation, formula, hypothesis, law, principle, rule, syndrome, theorem, or theory named after a person is preceded by the person’s name followed by an apostrophe and s:
Any variation follows the normal rules governing possessives (
Descartes’s rule of signs
An apparatus, coefficient angle, constant, cycle, effect, function, number, phenomenon, process, reagent, synthesis, or field of study named after a person is usually preceded by the name alone or its adjectival form:
Eponymic anatomical or botanical parts may incorporate the name either as a possessive (Cowper’s glands, Bartholin’s gland, Wernicke’s area) or adjectivally (Casparian strip, Eustachian tube, fallopian tube). Something named after two or more people is known by the bare surnames, joined by an en rule:
although the en rule is often erroneously replaced by a hyphen, especially in digital text—internet usage is an unreliable indicator in this regard.
Particularly in medical use, British technical practice increasingly is to use bare surnames, so as to avoid the possessive’s proprietary effect:
This is the typical form for toponymic designations:
East Coast fever
Degrees are of three types: degrees of inclination or angle, abbr. d. or deg.; degrees of temperature, symbol ° (U+00B0 degree sign); and degrees of latitude and longitude, abbr. lat. and long. (no points in scientific work). For degrees of temperature see
• A degree of inclination or angle is reckoned as 1/360th of a circle. The degree symbol (°) is set close up to the numeral. Decimal subdivisions of degree are preferred to minute (1/60 degree) or second (1/3600 degree), as in 60.75°.
• In geography, degrees of latitude and longitude are the angular distances on a meridian north or south of the equator (latitude), or east and west of the prime or Greenwich meridian (longitude). They maybe expressed in degrees (°), minutes (ʹ), and seconds (ʺ). The degree symbol is set closed up to the figure, for example 40° 42ʹ 30ʺ N74° 1ʹ 15ʺ W. In discursive and non-technical contexts there are generally spaces between each item. In display work and technical contexts the figures may be closed up, and the seconds given as decimal fractions, for example 40° 42.5ʹ N 74° 1.25ʹ W. The N, S, E, and W (no points) make the addition of lat. or long. superfluous in most instances, though especially in precise coordinates the reverse holds, with, for example, Lat. 40.980818, Long. −74.093665.
• In non-technical writing it is usually best to spell out the word degree. Where degrees of inclination and temperature occur in the same writing it may be advantageous to use the degree symbol for one and the word for the other.
14.1.9 Temperature and calories
The various common scales of temperature are Celsius (or centigrade), kelvin, and Fahrenheit; in scientific work only the Celsius and kelvin scales are used. Generally, use Arabic numerals for degrees of temperature, but words for degrees of inclination and in ordinary contexts for temperature. SI guidelines stipulate a space between the value and the degree symbol used with the scale abbreviation (10 °C) but it is commonly closed up (10°C). The degree symbol itself is printed close up to its scale abbreviation (°C not ° C); alternatively use Unicode code point U+2103 for the glyph degree Celsius (°C). For a range of temperatures repeat the unit if closed up but not if a space is normally used (15°C–17°C or 15–17 °C). Do not use the degree symbol with the kelvin scale.
• Degree Celsius (abbreviation °C) is identical in magnitude to the kelvin. To convert Celsius into kelvin add 273.15. It is the equivalent of degree centigrade, which it officially replaced in 1948. It is used as the common measure of temperature in most of the world outside the US.
• The kelvin (abbreviation K) is used in expressing kelvin temperatures or temperature differences: 0 K = absolute zero, or −273.15 °C. It officially replaced degree Kelvin (abbreviation °K) in 1968 as the SI unit of thermodynamic temperature (formerly called ‘absolute temperature’). It is used in certain scientific writing.
• Degree Fahrenheit (abbreviation °F) is the commonly used temperature unit in the US. The Fahrenheit scale was originally calibrated at the ice (32 °F) and steam points (212 °F).
• The term calorie stood for any of several units of heat and internal energy, originally relating to the gram of water and the degree Celsius. The calorie used in food science is actually a kilocalorie. Sometimes called a large calorie, it is often written with a capital C to distinguish it from the small calorie. Because of these uncertainties and potential confusions the SI unit of energy, the joule, is preferred in all scientific contexts.