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The Mayfield Handbook of Technical & Scientific Writing
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Section 9.3


Unless you are following a style guide that specifies otherwise, observe the following conventions.

Abbreviations, shortened forms of words, are commonly employed in scientific and technical writing. However, avoid unnecessary abbreviations, which can confuse a reader. Some abbreviations are always followed by a period. With other abbreviations, however, the use of the period varies from discipline to discipline. Similarly some abbreviations are capitalized and others are not. Consult a style guide in your professional field for appropriate rules regarding capitalization and periods.

The following list outlines common and appropriate uses of abbreviations.

  1. Abbreviate terms and words in graphics and bibliographies to save space.
  2. Always abbreviate certain words and phrases in your text. Those always abbreviated include
  3. Mr., Ms., B.A., Ph.D., B.C., B.C.E.

    cf. (from the Latin for "compare")

    et al. (from the Latin "and others")

    i.e. (from the Latin "that is")

    e.g. (from the Latin "for example")

  4. Abbreviate standard units of measure. Lists of standard units of measure are found in most dictionaries and textbooks. The following are some standard abbreviations of units of measure.
  5. C Centigrade F Fahrenheit K Kelvin
    in. inch cu. in. (or in.3) s second
    m meter cm centimeter kg kilogram
    A ampere mol mole L liter
    rad radian C coulomb V volt
    J joule Hz hertz W watt

  6. In general, avoid inventing abbreviations. However, if you need to coin an abbreviation to make a word fit into some limited space, such as in a drawing or table, the most common approach is to cut the word off, five letters long or so, after the consonant following the first, second, or last syllable. Thus magnetic becomes mag. and environmental becomes envir.

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