General Style and Usage Guidelines

These instructions provide general guidance for common word usage, style, punctuation, the use of numbers and mathematical symbols, abbreviations, etc. They have been adopted from the Herptologist League Style and Usage Guidelines.

  1. Scientific and Standard Names
    • For standard English common names: Use the species list provided by NAFHA on HerpWiki
    • Scientific names of genera and species: Use the species list provided by NAFHA on HerpWiki
    • Italicize Scientific names (e.g., Crotalus atrox); but not italicized when in a line of other italicized text, such as in secondary or tertiary headings. Example in text: Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox). Example in heading: Analysis of paternity in Crotalus atrox.
  2. Common Word Usage
    • Affect vs. effect: "Affect" is usually used as a verb and means "to influence, or have an effect on" whereas "effect" is usually used as a noun that means an outcome or result.
    • Because vs. since: "Because" usually means "for the reason that" whereas "since" usually means "from a time in the past until now.
    • Data: The word "data" is plural; "datum" is singular (e.g., The data are presented; The data showed that...; not The data is...)
    • Different from vs. different than: "Different from" is usually preferable, as that usage is consistent with how the word "differ" is typically used (e.g., Item A differs from Item B).
    • Farther vs. further: "Farther" indicates a physical or measurable distance; "further" indicates a figurative distance, such as in advancing, elaborating, or developing an explanation or argument.
    • Infer vs. imply: "Infer" means to deduce or conclude; "imply" means to hint or suggest.
    • That vs. which: Usually, "that" is used with restrictive clauses, and "which" is used with nonrestrictive clauses. Example: The snakes that we captured had all eaten frogs, which are common in the area. (The word "that" restricts the snakes being discussed to those that we captured, whereas the word "which" does not restrict the frogs to any particular ones and simply gives additional information about the frogs being discussed.)
    • Therefore vs. thus: "Therefore" usually means "as a consequence" or "for these reasons" whereas "thus" usually means "in this way" or "in that way."
    • While vs. although: "While" usually means "at the same time" whereas "although" usually means "in spite of the fact that" or "even though."
  3. Dashes and Hyphenation
    • "Non" words are not hyphenated (e.g., Nonparametric, not Non-parametric)
    • Other common prefixes such as neo-, co-, re-, are not hyphenated except where necessary to prevent misreading or ambiguity (e.g., co-occur)
    • Avoid using long hyphenated phrases as adjectives
    • Use hyphen (dash) for modifiers and two-word phrases used as an adjective (e.g., 20-ml syringe, 24-hour clock, t-test results, or life-history strategy, but 20 ml of water or the life history of bullfrogs)
    • Use en dash in the place of the minus sign; to replace the word "to" in ranges of numbers or years, as in snout–vent length and 15–20 g; in hyphenated phrases in which both sides are equal in importance (e.g., true–false, presence–absence, product–moment correlation)
    • Use an em dash to separates independent clauses for emphasis within a sentence, as in "The town—more of a village—is the nearest place to buy supplies." Alternatively, commas can be used where emphasis is not needed, as in "The town, which is more of a village, is the nearest place to buy supplies." Also use an em dash to separate a tertiary heading from the initial text.
  4. Italics
    • Used only for names of genera and species, and for appropriate leading terms (e.g., Key words) and headings
    • Common foreign words are not italicized (e.g., et al., not et al.).
    • Do not use italics for emphasis; instead, reword sentences to provide appropriate emphasis.
  5. Numbers
    • Always spell out a number used at the beginning of a sentence (e.g., Twenty species...).
    • Spell out all whole numbers less than 10, except as noted below
    • Use Arabic numerals:
      • For numbers of 10 or greater
      • When the number is followed by a unit of measurement (e.g., 9 mm; 30 °C)
      • When the number is a designator (e.g., Experiment 2)
      • When the number is separated by a dash, as in a range of values (e.g., 2–3 scutes)
      • When numbers of 10 or more are compared to numbers less than 10 within a sentence (e.g., The 7 frogs, 9 salamanders, and 20 lizards that were collected...)
      • For decimal values; if decimal value is less than one, use zero before decimal (e.g., 0.5, not .5)
      • Numbers with four digits are not separated by comma (e.g., 5280)
      • Numbers with five or more digits use commas (e.g., 15,280)
      • Numbers or letters in a list should be fully enclosed in parentheses; e.g., (1), (2), (3); not 1), 2), 3)
      • Geographic coordinates can be in any standard format (e.g., decimal degrees, or degrees minutes seconds); specify the datum for the geographic coordinates.
  6. Mathematical Signs and Symbols
    • Punctuating mathematical symbols
    • Mathematical operators are separated by spaces; e.g., equal sign (=), < or > signs, and division (/) sign are separated on both sides by spaces (e.g., α = 0.05, not α=0.05; P < 0.025, not P<0.025)
    • Plus sign or minus sign (en dash) separated from text by spaces when used to indicate mathematical operation (e.g., 1 + 1 = 2), but no space is used when the symbol indicates positive or negative values (e.g., +2 is a positive value and –2 is a negative value).
    • Plus-or-minus sign (±) is separated from text by spaces when used to indicate a mean ± SE (e.g., 12 ± 0.02; not 12±0.02), except that no space after plus-or-minus sign when used to indicate positive or negative values (e.g., ±2 indicates a positive or negative value).
    • Symbols for "similar to" or "nearly equal to" not followed by space (e.g., ~12, ≈24)
  7. Measurement Units and Abbreviations
    • Measurements will be shown in Metrics and may be followed by Imperial equivalents in parenthesis
    • Measurement units and their abbreviations include:
      • Millimeters = mm
      • Centimeters = cm
      • Meters = m
      • Kilometers = km
      • Inch = in
      • Feet = ft
      • Milliliters = mL
      • Liters = L
      • Grams = g (not gm)
      • Kilogram = kg
      • Seconds = s
      • Minutes = min
      • Hours = h
      • Days = d (or day)
      • Week = wk
      • Month = mo
      • Years = yr
      • Time of day: use 24-hour clock (e.g., 1300 h)
      • Dates: use Day Month Year with no commas (e.g., 7 May 2006)
      • Temperatures: Celsius, with space after number and with a degree symbol before the abbreviation for temperature scale (e.g., 30 °C, not 30 C).
    • Statistical abbreviations
      • ca. = "circa" or "around"; lower case, not italicized, followed by period
      • cf. = "compare with"; lower case, not italicized, followed by period
      • CL = carapace length; define this at first usage
      • df = degrees of freedom; not italicized
      • e.g., = "for example"; lower case, not italicized, period after each letter, followed by comma
      • i.e., = "that is"; lower case, not italicized, period after each letter, followed by comma
      • Greek letters (e.g., χ and χ2) not italicized
      • n = sample size; lower case and italicized
      • N = chromosome number; capitalized, not italicized
      • no. = number; lower case, not italicized, followed by period
      • NS (not significant); capitalized, not italicized, no periods between letters
      • P = probability; capitalized and italicized
      • Ph.D., M.A., M.S., M.Sc., A&M
      • r, r2, T, F, t (as in t-test) ,U, W = statistical symbols; all italicized
      • SD = standard deviation, SE = standard error; often indicated as ± 1 SD, ± 3 SE, etc.
      • sp. nov. and gen. nov. = "new species" and "new genus"; lower case, no comma before these terms
      • SVL = snout–vent length; define this at first usage
      • TL = total length; define this at first usage
      • vs. = "versus"; can be abbreviated in lower case without italics, or can be spelled out
      • X = mean; capitalized and italicized; or use word "mean"
      • Do not abbreviate "male" or "female," "personal communication," dates, or undefined terms.
      • States are usually abbreviated using standard postal abbreviations, but can be spelled out
      • Do not use periods in US, USA, UK or other country abbreviations
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