Tips for More Effective Technical Writing

Tip #14 Mechanics

Mechanics refers to the technical aspects of writing: punctuation, spelling, and a few others.

Hyphen [ - ] – General

Rule: Even though a hyphen [ - ] is commonly associated with separating parts of words at the end of a line of text (suggest turning off the hyphenation function in your word processing software), most times nowadays a hyphen is used for joining words.

main word is capitalized

pre-Columbian civilization
post-Copernican astronomy
sub-Saharan Africa
when NOT using hyphen changes meaning

Re-cover the flask after adding the reagent.
He recovered quickly from the operation.



Do not use hyphen after -ly in compound adjectives
the widely applauded plan for conservation
the clearly described new process




Use hyphen for modifiers (形容詞) with number values and units
a 5-gm dose of medicine
a 20-km radius
a 10-woman team
a 55-year-old professor
      

Use hyphens when spelling out fractions
one-third of the population
Use hyphens when spelling out

1. cardinal numbers 〔基数〕 and
eighty-five samples


2. ordinal numbers 〔序数〕 from 22 through 99
the Sixty-Sixth Congress
Others
ex-        ex-husband
quasi-    quasi-stellar object
self-       self-inflicted wound

*Always consult a collegiate or unabridged dictionary to verify the nuances of words before using them in your final draft.
Source: partially adapted from Scientific Style and Format-The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 7th ed. 2006, pp. 61-63; pp.74-75.

Hyphen [ - ] & Compound Adjectives

Compound adjectives 〔複合形容詞〕 are formed when two or more adjectives work together to describe or modify the same noun: past participle (-ed, -n, others 過去分詞) or present participle (-ing 現在分詞). These terms should be hyphenated to avoid confusion or ambiguity.

seizure-inducing drugs
all-encompassing strategy
well-known physicist
ill-advised procedure
well-established rule
1. ORIGINAL
The black and purple spot suggested that the reaction had become contaminated.
1. REVISED: 3 WORDS = SINGLE ADJECTIVE
The black-and-purple spot suggested that the reaction had become contaminated.

2. ORIGINAL
The material was covered well in the 20 minute presentation.
2A. REVISED: COMPOUNDS WITH NUMBERS
The material was covered well in the 20- minute presentation.

2B. REVISED: 2 WORDS = SINGLE ADJECTIVE
The material was well-covered in the 20- minute presentation.

3. ORIGINAL
The experiment lasted eight days and observation twenty-four hours a day was required.
both numbers written out
arrow
3. REVISED: 3 WORDS = SINGLE ADJECTIVE
The 8-day experiment required 24-hour observation.
The experiment lasted eight days and observation 24 hours a day was required.
only single-digit number written out
(see "Numbers 10, Guideline 2")

arrow

4. ORIGINAL
Our targets are relatively large scale hospitals because they deal with much more complicated diseases which need coronary angiography or head vessel angiography.
4. REVISED: LARGE-SCALE VS. SMALL-SCALE
Our targets are relatively large-scale hospitals because they deal with much more complicated diseases which need coronary angiography or head vessel angiography.

5. ORIGINAL
TOSHIBA has only low end model CT scanner.
5. REVISED: HIGH-END VS. LOW-END
TOSHIBA has only low-end model CT scanners.

Be careful with double compound adjectives

6. ORIGINAL
The single-coil method and the multi-coil method were employed to investigate the 100 Tesla class magnetic field.
6. REVISED
The single- and multi-coil methods were employed to investigate the 100 Tesla class magnetic field.

7. ORIGINAL
The two-dimensional aspect and the three-dimensional aspect were considered.
single-digit number written out
(see "Numbers 10, Guideline 2")
7. REVISED
Both two- and three-dimensional aspects were considered.

Two- and three-dimensional aspects were both considered.

Hyphens and Prefixes     (接頭語)

Always consult a collegiate or unabridged dictionary to verify which prefixes require a hyphen [ - ] and which ones do not before using them in your final draft.

8. ORIGINAL
Obstetrical information was obtained from medical records and dietary and lifestyle information was from selfadministered questionnaires.
8. REVISED
Obstetrical information was obtained from medical records and dietary and lifestyle information was from self-administered questionnaires.

9. ORIGINAL
A quasilinear system is a control system in which the relationships between the input and output signals are considerably linear despite nonlinear elements being present.
9. REVISED
A quasi-linear system is a control system in which the relationships between the input and output signals are considerably linear despite nonlinear elements being present.

PREFIXES NOT USING HYPHENS*
aero
after
ante
anti
astro
auto
bi
bio
chemo
co
counter
de
di
electro
exo
extra
geo
hemi
hemo
hyper
hypo
in
infra
inter
iso
macro
meta
aerostatics
aftershock
antepartum
anticodon
astrophysics
autoimmunity
bivalve
biomechanics
chemotherapy
coenzyme
counterimmunoelectrophoresis
denitrification
diketone
electrosurgery
exopathogen
extrasystole
geochemistry
hemianesthesia
hemodialysis
hyperventilation
hypomenorrhea
incoordination
infrared
interface
isohexane
macroflora
mutagenesis
micro
mid
milli
mini
non
over
para
photo
physio
phyto
poly
post
pre
pro
pseudo
re
semi
stereo
sub
super
supra
trans
tri
ultra
un
under
microfossil
midbrain
millisecond
minicomputer
nonconductor
overtone
paramyxovirus
photochemistry
physiotherapy
phytopathology
polyarthritis
postprecipitation
prediabetes
proinsulin
pseudopod
recombination
semiconductor
stereochemistry
subspecies
supersaturation
supracapula
transpolarizer
tribromoethanol
ultracentrifuge
unconformity
undernutrition
*Always consult a collegiate or unabridged dictionary to verify the nuances of words before using them in your final draft.
Source: partially adapted from Scientific Style and Format-The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 7th ed. 2006, pp. 61-63; pp.74-75.

Punctuation: DASH [ – ]

Rule: Use the dash cautiously to indicate more emphasis, informality, or abruptness than other punctuation marks would show. A dash can also emphasize a sharp turn in thought.

Dashes set off parenthetical elements more sharply and emphatically than commas. Unlike dashes, parentheses tend to de-emphasize what they enclose.

DEGREE OF
EMPHASIS
↓
★★★ dashes Only one person—the president—can authorize such activity.
★★ commas Only one person, the president, can authorize such activity.
★★ parentheses Only one person (the president) can authorize such activity.
10. ORIGINAL
Also, 60% of the citizens live in Ger district of 6500 ha, and 145,000 automobiles, most of them are older than 10 years, contribute to air and soil contamination.
10. REVISED
Also, 60% of the citizens live in Ger district of 6500 ha, and 145,000 automobiles-most of them are older than 10 years-contribute to air and soil contamination.

Punctuation: parentheses (   )

Rule: Use parentheses [ ( ) ] to enclose incidental explanatory matter including words, phrases, or even other sentences. Though this material is important enough to be included, it is not intended to be part of the main statement. This material uses clarifies or defines the preceding text without altering its meaning. Use to de-emphasize; hence, may not be essential but may be helpful to some readers.

She severely bruised her femur (or thighbone) in the accident.

When parentheses stands are used at the end of a sentence, the ending punctuation is placed outside the final parenthesis.

Ecotourism is accommodating heightened demand in more regions
(Fennell and Nowaczek, 2010).

Avoid following spelled-out numbers with numerals in parentheses representing the same numbers.

Send five (5) copies of the report. Send five copies of the report.

11. ORIGINAL
The main defining characteristics of ecotourism fall into two categories, namely environmental inputs and environmental outputs. The inputs are the natural and associated cultural features in a particular geographic place which serve as attractions for tourists. The outputs are the net costs or benefits for the natural and social environment. Ecotourism can hence be viewed as geotourism with a positive triple bottom line (Buckley, 2003).
11. REVISED: IN-TEXT CITATIONS
According to Buckley (2003), the main defining characteristics of ecotourism fall into two categories, namely environmental inputs and environmental outputs. The inputs are the natural and associated cultural features in a particular geographic place which serve as attractions for tourists. The outputs are the net costs or benefits for the natural and social environment. Ecotourism can hence be viewed as geotourism with a positive triple bottom line.

12. ORIGINAL
Firstly, to monitor fields (farmlands (45%), rice fields (25%), meadows (10%), gardens (10%), and others (10%)) and to obtain environmental information over long periods of time, …
Parentheses used inside parentheses confuses readers.
12. REVISED: IN-TEXT CITATIONS
Firstly, to monitor fields (farmlands 45%, rice fields 25%, meadows 20%, gardens 10%, and others 10%) and to obtain environmental information over long periods of time, …

Firstly, to monitor fields-farmlands 70%, meadows 10%, gardens 10%, and others 10%-and to obtain environmental information over long periods of time, …


Consider best style to emphasize what you want to emphasize, or even consider rewording the entire text.

13. ORIGINAL (GOOD STYLE)
The concerns of people in northern Japan heightened after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of 2011 because of inadequate government response, inaccurate information from the nuclear power plant operator, and stronger fears of recurrence.
13. REVISED: WHEN LISTING (FOR EMPHASIS)
The concerns of people in northern Japan heightened after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of 2011 because of (1) inadequate government response, (2) inaccurate information from the nuclear power plant operator, and (3) strong fears of recurrence.

Spelling

Spellchecking software is a big help, yet falls short on being perfect. Sometimes misspelled words are actually "properly spelled words", but differ in meaning from that intended by the writer. Having a native English speaker proofread your written document can only help find unintentional mechanical errors such as misspelling.

14. ORIGINAL
In conclusion, our strategy is to make strategic partnerships with market readers exclusively.
14. REVISED
In conclusion, our strategy is to make strategic partnerships with market leaders exclusively.

15. ORIGINAL
The results call our intention to the local community efforts.
15. REVISED
The results call our attention to the local community efforts.

16. ORIGINAL
… if the structure of the scale is consistent with the variables that the instrument purpose to measure.
16. REVISED
… if the structure of the scale is consistent with the variables that the instrument proposes to measure.

17. ORIGINAL
In my research, I choose two dimensions of diversity-cultural and disciplinary. In other words, students of different nationalities and background knowledge represent the objects of my research.
17. REVISED
In my research, I choose two dimensions of diversity-cultural and disciplinary. In other words, students of different nationalities and background knowledge represent the objectives of my research.
… students of different nationalities and background knowledge represent the parameters of my research.
possible erroneous word choice

18. ORIGINAL
We propose in this paper a novel method for calculating the learning coefficient by using the exchange Monte Carlo (EMC) method (Hukushima & Nemoto, 1996).
18. REVISED
We propose in this paper a novel method for calculating the learning coefficient by using the exchange Monte Carlo (EMC) method (Fukushima & Nemoto, 1996).

When romanizing foreign words, be sure to follow the guidelines of the style manual you use.
      Romanization
      Preferred Older Styles
English Japanese Kana spelling Revised Hepburn Kunrei-shiki Nihon-shiki
Mount Fuji 富士山 ふじさん Fujisan Huzisan Huzisan
tea お茶 おちゃ ocha otya otya
to shrink 縮む ちぢむ chijimu tizimu tidimu
to continue 続く つづく tsuzuku tuzuku tuduku

19. ORIGINAL
… finish by listening my conclusions.
19. REVISED
… finish by listing my conclusions.

20. ORIGINAL
We want to contribute to Japanese patience and hospitals.
20. REVISED
We want to contribute to Japanese patients and hospitals.

21. ORIGINAL
4. CONCLUTIONS
21. REVISED
4. CONCLUSIONS

22. ORIGINAL
The post-translational membrane insertion of (X) was not observed in the wild type (Y) (Fig. 4E), proofing that membrane integration of multi-spanning membrane protein occurred co-translationally.
22. REVISED
The post-translational membrane insertion of (X) was not observed in the wild type (Y) (Fig. 4E), proving that membrane integration of multi-spanning membrane protein occurred co-translationally.

Your thesis or dissertation supervisor, your university, a journal's "Guidelines for Authors", or the general use in the writer's field usually dictate whether a writer should use the American or British spelling conventions. Whichever you chose, be sure to adhere to the rules of your choice and avoid mixing styles.

Differences in American and British Writing Styles

1. Spellings

-er / -re
American British
caliber
center
fiber
luster
meter
somber
spector
caliber
centre
fibre
lustre
metre
sombre
spectre
 
-z- / -s-

-ize / -ise
-yze / -yse
American British
analyze
capitalize
catalyze
centralization
colonization
criticize
customize
galvanize
hydrolyze
initialize
maximize
memorize
minimize
normalize
optimization
organization
paralyze
paralyze
realize
recognize
analyse
capitalise
catalyse
centralisation
colonisation
criticise
customize
galvanise
hydrolyse
initialize
maximise
memories
minimise
normalise
optimisation
organisation
paralyse
paralyse
realise
recognise
 
-or / -our
American British
behavior
candor
clamor
color
favor
harbor
honor
labor
neighbor
behaviour
candour
clamour
colour
favour
harbour
honour
labour
neighbor
 
-ol / -oul
American British
mold mould
 
in- / en-
American British
inquiry enquiry
 
-se / -ce
American British
defense
license
pretense
defence
licence
pretence
 
C-ed / CC-ed
American British
admitted
formatted
leveled
referring
traveled
admitted
formatted
leveled
referred
travelled
 
-ire / -yre
American British
tire tyre
 
-m / -mme
American British
program programme
 
-n / -nne
American British
ton tone
 
–tion / -xion
American British
connection connexion
 
–og / -ogue
American British
analog
catalog
analogue
catalogue
 
Other
American British
check
bank
draft (beer)
gray
phoney
skeptic
story
cheque
banque
draught (beer)
grey
phony
sceptic
storey

2. Punctuation

Periods in titles
American British
Mr.
Ms.
Mr
Ms
 
Commas in closing salutations American British w/ reverse word order
American British
Sincerely yours,
Faithfully yours,
Yours sincerely
Yours faithfully

3. Vocabulary

Housing
American British
apartment flat
 
Transportation
American British
gas(oline)
subway
hood
trunk
flat tire
parking lot
airplane
curb
truck
highway
petrol
tube
bonnet
boot
puncture
car park
aeroplane
kerb
lorry
motorway

4. Grammar

Subject-Verb Agreement
American British
The staff is …
The committee is …
The faculty is …
The staff are
The committee are …
The faculty are …
 
Prepositions
American British
on the weekend at weekend
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