The purpose of this SECTION is to remind that the rules of English grammar that you learned in grade-school and later still apply. If you need further reminders of the rules, then buy a book on English grammar and use the grammar-check that comes with the latest word-processing software. Be aware, however, that grammar-check may not be designed to handle a few of the needs of biologists -- for example, it may prompt you to capitalize the second word of a species name although this would be incorrect (SECTION 7.4).
Use spell-check. Even if you won a national spelling bee contest you can still make typographical errors.
Use grammar-check. You may be surprised by the errors it finds in your writing. However, grammar-check in Word or WordPerfect may not pick up some errors of use, e.g., these programs may allow you to write "data is" although for biological journals only "data are" is considered correct.
Refer to the CBE Style Manual for many of the finer points in scientific writing. Buy yourself a copy of it if you intend to be a professional biologist. Also, buy yourself a copy of a book such as Kirkpatrick & Breese (1961) and study it to improve your writing.
2.01 write "1990s" not "1990's" (when not
to use an apostrophe)
- there is no need for an apostrophe -- the expression is not a possessive (like John's), nor is it a contraction (like don't), so omit the apostrophe and save space (SEE CBE Style Manual).
- how often have you followed a travel trailer labelled "The Smith's" (or something similar) on a highway? Mr and Mrs Smith (if that's who they are) failed to learn in grade school that their name should be written as "The Smiths" in the plural -- and that the plural does not have an apostrophe -- they should simply add the letter "s" because to do otherwise makes the name a possessive.
2.02 equivalence of scientific and vernacular names (when not
to use commas)
- in titles of works and elsewhere, a pair of commas is sometimes used to indicate that a scientific name within the commas is the equivalent of the vernacular name (SECTION 8) before or after them.
Example 1: "Biology of the yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, in Egypt" -- is correct. It is correct because "yellow fever mosquito" is the exact English vernacular equivalent of Aedes aegypti. Unfortunately, some writers, and even editors, do not understand this convention, and publish such titles as:
Example 2: "Biology of the mosquito, Aedes aegypti, in Egypt" -- is wrong because "the mosquito" and "Aedes aegypti" are not equivalent -- the vernacular name of Aedes aegypti is not "the mosquito" -- so the commas should be omitted:
Example 3: "Biology of the mosquito Aedes aegypti in Egypt" -- is correct. Of course it is possible to substitute "a mosquito" for "the mosquito" to make the expressions equivalent, as in:
Example 4: "Biology of a mosquito, Aedes aegypti, in Egypt" -- is correct in the sense that Aedes aegypti is a mosquito [species].
Council of Biological Editors. 1994. Scientific Style and Format. The CBE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. Cambridge Univ. Press; Cambridge, UK. 6th edition.
Kirkpatrick, T.W., Breese, M.H. 1961. Better English for Technical Authors. Leonard Hill (Books); London, U.K.