English Editing at Astronomy & Astrophysics
This short language guide is designed to help you meet A&A standards when you are preparing your paper and to understand the changes that the A&A language editors (LEs) make to your manuscript (MS). Please see the editorial on language editing for a more extensive explanation of our editing goals (A&A 490, E19).
1.1 Scope of this language guide
This guide is based on the kinds of changes the LEs recommend most often in A&A papers, so it does not pretend to be a complete English language guide. For instance, common language errors that we only see at times are not included in the explanations because they are explained in other general grammars, dictionaries, and handbooks.
The LEs strive for consistency in editing those MSs selected for language editing. Nevertheless, there will always be variations in the English found in the Journal as a whole. This occurs because there is often more than one way to construct a phrase or sentence or even to correct a grammar problem.
A few matters that are not directly language concerns, but rather conventions in use at A&A are explained in the following sections.
1.2 A&A house style
The following A&A conventions are enforced by LEs:
A&A aims to maintain a formal register (style) in the body of the paper.
This includes the following:
- Do not contract two words: replace “don’t”, “can’t”, “won’t”, “it’s” by “do not”, “cannot”, “will not”, “it is”, etc.
- Avoid addressing the reader directly in the imperative:
- “Note that the data were...”
- “The data were...”
- “We would like to point out that the data were…”
- "We note that…”.
- Write out figures when lower than eleven and not directly used in a measurement with the unit following: e.g., “five years” and “5 yr”.
- Use the full terms for many abbreviations when in the running text, such as “e.g.”, “i.e.”, or “w.r.t”. The handy signs used in note-taking and between colleagues in meetings (e.g., slashes, the ampersand) should be avoided in the main text.
- “mounted at the ESO/VLT@UT1 telescope”
- “mounted on the Unit 1 telescope (UT1) at ESO's VLT”.
- Only the first word of a heading should be capitalized, along with proper names.
For example, “Sect. 5. Discussion and conclusions”, and abbreviations should be avoided. Also see Sect. 5.3.1. for other examples.
- Italics for indicating emphasis are discouraged.
- Date format needs to be consistent within the text of a single paper.
The following choices are allowed:
- 4 January 2004 or 4 Jan 2004; January 4, 2004 or Jan 4, 2004;
- 2004 January 4 or 4 Jan 2004.
We ask that the cardinal endings be left off for dates because it is informal style and that the month be written out, since 4-1-2004 is ambiguous between cultures, and it too is informal inside the text.
- The tilde symbol (~) is used to mean “approximately” before measurements (~ 5 yr) but not before actual words.
The tilde is useful to avoid wordier synonyms like “on the order of”, which should only be used for measurements with figures, not for a general noun (“on the order of 10 Gyr” not “on the order of the age of the star”). The related symbol “≈” should be reserved for mathematical expressions, rather than used as an alternative to the tilde.
1.3 Adjustments to the Abstract and captions
The LEs revise any incomplete sentence used after a heading.
- “Aims. Investigate stars.” should instead be written as
- “Aims. We investigate stars.” or as
- “Aims. We aim to investigate stars.”
Since abstracts are supposed to be self-contained, LEs suggest substituting most citations of earlier work with other wording.
- “Two transverse profiles are distinguished, one being the generalized Epsteli> distribution (profile E) and the other (N) proposed recently in Smith et al. (2012)”
- “Two transverse profiles are distinguished that we call Profiles E and N.”
The required sections are Aims, Method, and Results, even if you choose not to use the headings. If the content of a section is missing or if it contradicts the headings, LEs point it out and suggest an adjustment. See the editorial on Abstracts from when A&A introduced the structured abstract. (A&A 441, E3)
1.3.2 Captions to tables and figures
In line with A&A conventions for captions and with the “Paper organization” page for authors [http://www.aanda.org/for-authors/author-information/paper-organization], the LEs ask you to remove any article (A, An, The) at the beginning of the caption, legend details in the body of the text that repeat information in the caption, or any discursive language or information (e.g., results) that do not directly explain symbols in the figure.
We also adjust the caption to resemble the expected style: e.g., the first phrase should not be a full sentence, or notes to tables should resemble footnote style, not that of the running text.
1.4 Suggested resources
1.4.1 Guidebooks from other scientific disciplines and laboratories
These guides follow the same principles as A&A, so you can use them for most questions, even if their examples come from their disciplines. These include
- CHEMISTRY: The ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors, Second Edition, edited by Janet S. Dodd. Its sections are: Getting Started, Writing Style and Word Usage, Components of a Paper, Types of Presentations, Advice from the Authorities.
- BIOLOGY, the biology department at Columbia University: Writing a scientific research article [http://www.columbia.edu/cu/biology/ug/research/paper.html] Its main sections are found under “Format for the paper” and “Edit your paper!!” Both of these repeat in detail what language editors are looking for when editing your papers, so you can see there that we are not being any more rigorous than others are.
- NASA – Langley Research Laboratories guide for authors presenting reports by Mary McCaskill [http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19900017394.pdf] This is the fourth NASA URL found for this resource, so if it does not work (again), try to find it by a search engine using the title and author; otherwise, consider the following list of English for science resources to complement those here.
- Guide to Grammar and Writing is a resource by Capital Community College in Hartford Connecticut. [http://guidetogrammar.org/grammar/]
- The latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, Chicago University Press. This extensive manual is used by most scientific communities in the United States, including psychology. It may be too technical and detailed, when most of what you need is on the A&A site. The book itself is bulky, but it is possible to subscribe to it online to access all its sections (including the style guide) and even to ask specific questions of its staff of editors.
1.4.2 Other online resources for scientific writing and writing in general
- Madison Wisconsin Writing Lab for Scientific Reports, including suggestions for each of the six parts of a paper (or scientific report). [https://writing.wisc.edu/handbook/assignments/sciencereport/]
- A list of common errors and advice by a professor of English at Washington State University, Paul Brians. [https://brians.wsu.edu/common-errors/] It tells you it is meant for native English speakers, but there is much that can help everyone. He also gives a list of sites specifically for second-language English writers.