GrammarPhile Blog

Some Science of Science Writing

Posted by Phil Jamieson   Nov 15, 2011 5:30:00 AM

ScientistFrom time to time, even the most science-averse writers must cover a scientific term in writing. For example, is it Fahrenheit or fahrenheit? Is it Celsius and Centigrade, or celsius and centigrade? While there are several authoritative guides that should be found on the shelves of all science writers (The AIP Style Manual, Physical Review Letters, Astrophysical Journal, and The ACS Style Guide for chemists), the following are some general guidelines for nontechnical editors.

Laws and theories. Names of laws, theories, and the like are lowercased, except for proper names attached to them.

  • Avogadro's number
  • the big bang theory
  • Boyle's law
  • Einstein's general theory of relativity
  • Newton's first law

Radiations. Terms for electromagnetic radiations may be spelled as follows.

  • x-ray (noun, verb, or adjective)
  • β-ray (noun or adjective)
  • beta ray (in nonscientific contexts, noun or adjective)
  • γ-ray (noun or adjective)
  • gamma ray (in nonscientific contexts, noun or adjective)
  • cosmic ray (noun); cosmic-ray (adjective)
  • ultraviolet ray (noun); ultraviolet-ray (adjective)

Metric units. Although the spellings meter, liter, and so on are widely used in the United States, some American business, government, or professional organizations have adopted the European spellings (metre, litre, etc.). Either is acceptable as long as consistency is maintained within a work.

Follow-up. And it's always Fahrenheit (named for Daniel G. Fahrenheit), Celsius (named for Anders Celsius), and centigrade (from Latin for hundred).

Topics: scientific terms

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