Publishing Instructions for ODP Scientists
Usage and Writing Style Guidelines
In this section the mechanics of American English writing are described specifically for use by
Proceedings authors. For a complete reference on the elements of usage and style, we suggest The
Chicago Manual of Style, published by the University of Chicago Press. Use the
ODP Dictionary for preferred spellings of commonly used technical terms.
Common measurement phrases such as "meters below seafloor" (mbsf) can be abbreviated
the second time they are used in a manuscript.
Identify all abbreviations and acronyms the first time they appear in both the abstract and the
body of the manuscript.
Spell out "per" when used without numerals or in approximations ("a few meters per million
The standard abbreviation for "million years" is "m.y." or "Ma."
Abbreviations of government agencies, associations, etc., are written without periods (USGS).
Periods are retained in abbreviations of names of countries (U.S.A.). When in doubt, the
spelled-out form is always correct.
- Use "Ma" (mega-annum) to refer to a specific date or interval (15-20 Ma).
Example: The sequence boundary is tentatively dated at 1.4 Ma.
- Use "m.y." to refer to a general number of years (4 m/m.y.).
Example: Tectonic subsidence has been slow (<10 m/m.y.).
- Use "ka" to refer to a specific date.
Example: Sea level was 130 m lower during the last glacial maximum at 18 ka.
- Use either "k.y." or "1000 yr" to refer to thousands of years.
Example: The subsequent transgression over the last 18 k.y. covered the sediment column with water.
Capitalize the following:
"Leg," "Site," "Hole," "Core," "Section," and "Sample" when they precede a number. Do
not capitalize "interval." See also Core, Section, and Sample Designations and Drill-Site
Designations in the Terminology Guidelines section.
Formal geologic divisions, chronologic or stratigraphic (Mesozoic Era, Eocene Series).
"Lower," "middle," and "upper" ("early," "middle," and "late") only when indicating a
formally defined rock-stratigraphic, time-stratigraphic, or time unit. For our purposes, this is
only the Jurassic and Cretaceous series/epochs (Lower, Middle, Upper and Early, Middle, Late
Jurassic; Lower, Upper and Early, Late Cretaceous). Do not capitalize subdivisions of
series/epochs or subdivisions of units of lower rank (thus "middle Eocene," "upper
Globigerinatella insueta Zone"). See Stratigraphic Names in the Terminology Guidelines
Names of water masses ("Antarctic Bottom Water").
Adjectives and generic terms in names of major underwater features ("Mid-Atlantic Ridge").
For details on capitalization of such features, refer to the Gazetteer of Undersea Features,
published by the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency (Washington).
Names of genera (but not names of species) in binomial scientific names (Globigerina
In general, capitalize adjectives and generic geographic terms used as part of a proper name
("Southern Hemisphere," "the North Pole"). However, do not capitalize a generic word used
alone as a short term for a proper name ("the canal" for "Panama Canal"). Capitalize the
generic term when it follows two or more specific geographic names ("the Atlantic and Pacific
- "Figure" should be spelled out, unless it is used within parenthesis, when it should be
abbreviated to "Fig." Examples: "The abundance of foraminifers and radiloarians is
illustrated in Figure 5." and "The seismic section at Site 1002 (Fig. 3) shows a high
amplitude horizontal reflection...."
- "Table" should always be spelled out. Example: "Structural observations and
measurements made at Site 1040 (Table 6; Fig. 7) indicate...."
When referring to another author's figure, table, or plate, use lower case letters. Example:
"(Martin, 1978, fig. 6)"
- "Plate" should be spelled out, unless it is used within parenthesis, when it should be
abbreviated to "Pl." Example "Seven species of radiolarians were identified (Pl. 4)."
- Individual parts of a plate are called figures and are separated from the plate designation by a
comma. Example: "(Pl. 3, fig. 4 and Pl. 4, fig. 1)".
For multiple callouts, use the following as a model:
"... is illustrated in Figures 5 and 6."
"... is illustrated in Figures 1-3, 5. "
"... as shown in Table 3 and Plate 7."
"... as shown (Figs. 1-3)."
"... as shown (Fig. 1; Tables 2, 3; Plate 1, fig. 4)."
Whenever appropriate, write using the active voice. The active voice, with free use of the first
person where it is natural, is the best way to present your findings as clearly and objectively as
possible. For example, use "we found" in place of "it was found," and "we suggest" in place
of "it is suggested." Likewise, legs, sites, and holes do not drill or recover cores; only people
do. "During Leg 105, we drilled three sites in the Labrador Sea." is clearer to the reader than
"Leg 105 drilled three sites in the Labrador Sea.", and "We recovered a nearly complete lower
Miocene sequence from Holes 645B, 645D, and 645F" is clearer than "Holes 645B, 645D, and
645F recovered a nearly complete lower Miocene sequence."
Check nounverb agreement in all sentences. Placement of prepositional phrases between the
subject and verb can confuse the verb tense. For example, "Routine squeezing of whole-round
sediment samples shows complex interstitial water profiles." Although "samples shows"
sounds incorrect, "squeezing" is the subject of the sentence and takes the singular verb form,
hence "squeezing shows."
Avoid general modifiers. Words such as "rather," "usually," "relatively," and "sort of" dilute
clear writing and give the impression that writers are not willing to assume responsibility for
their conclusions, opinions, or doubts. Often such modifiers appear in awkward locations
within a sentence. For example, "The sediments predominantly consist of silt" could be
interpreted in two ways: the sediments contain mostly silt vs. most of the sediments are silt. The
meaning of the sentence changes, depending on one inexact word.
Use clear writing. One of the main causes of unclear writing is the use of an abstract word as
the subject of a sentence. Often this sort of subject is a noun made from a verb, a
nominalization. For example, "A cessation of drilling has taken place" instead of "Drilling
ceased." Action verbs working on active subjects strengthen sentences and the ideas they
Avoid ambiguity. Ambiguity results from phrases that do not have logical antecedents.
"Reducing speed, the survey began." The survey can't reduce speed. Changing from the
passive to the active voice offers one sound solution to this problem: "We began the survey by
Avoid relative clauses. Relative clauses (introduced by words like "which" or "that") can
smother meaning by adding too many ideas for one sentence to express. Sentences containing
many "whiches" and "thats" should be broken up, to improve clarity.
Or, know when to use relative clauses properly. "That" is used to introduce a limiting or
defining clause; "which" is used to introduce a nondefining or parenthetical clause. For
example, "The river that flows west of Manhattan is the Hudson," and "The Hudson River,
which flows west of Manhattan, is muddy."
Use pronouns only when the reference is clear. If a sentence contains a pronoun, the pronoun
must have an obvious antecedent. "Two sand and silt beds occur in these cores, one of which is
75 cm thick." Which bed (in which core) is that thick?
Choose words carefully. Good writing begins with apt choices of words, so that each word
simply and exactly expresses what the writer wants to say.
Be brief. Use the fewest, simplest words to express your thoughts without sacrificing pertinent
detail. Writers and readers both benefit from brevity. "A bathymetric position closely subjacent
to" simply means "a depth just below."
The general rule is this: Hyphenate compound words if omission of the hyphen would
confuse meaning or pronunciation -- for example, "co-occur."
A common cause of ambiguity is omission of the hyphen in compound adjectives preceding a
noun. If you write "a meeting of the potential gas committee," for example, how can the reader
tell if the committee's purpose is to investigate potential sources of gas or if it is a potential
committee? The hyphen enables the reader to comprehend "potential-gas" as a single term with
a meaning of its own. When deciding whether to hyphenate, let the criterion be clarity.
Refer to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, for guidelines on hyphenation
(http://www.m-w.com/dictionary.htm [leaving ODP web pages]).
Do not italicize:
- Names of genera, species, subspecies, and varieties (but not groups of higher rank or their
derivative nouns or adjectives).
- Ships' names.
- Titles of books, pamphlets, and periodicals.
- Variables in equations.
Anything that should appear in italics in the final publication needs to be in italics or underlined
in your manuscript.
- Titles of articles.
- Proper names.
Italics may be useful for the introduction of a new term, but not for frequent emphasis.
Mixed forms may be used for very large numbers ("5 million").
- Round numbers, indefinite numbers, and numbers with no mathematical implication ("a
hundred or more specimens").
- Numbers that begin a sentence ("Ten meters of core was recovered.").
- A number preceding or following another numeral ("nine 10-m sections").
- One-digit numbers in the text, unless they:
precede a unit of measurement ("5 mm"),
suggest mathematical manipulation ("a factor of 2"),
appear in statistical groups involving their frequent use ("1, 2, or 15 layers"),
represent dates of the month ("1 May"), or
are time terms (2 days, 4 weeks, 1 yr).
Put commas, not spaces or periods, in numerals of five or more digits.
A zero goes before the decimal point in numerals less than unity.
Punctuation may be determined by structure or respiration or a combination of both. Punctuation
by structure delineates the processes of thought, marks off the steps of the argument, and generally
orders expression in the interest of meaning. Punctuation both reflects and determines structure.
Punctuation by respiration (pauses for breath) allows the reader a break: each comma, semicolon,
and period signifies an increasing degree of pause. Scientific writing commonly uses a mixture of
both methods, with emphasis on punctuation by structure.
Spelling must be consistent.
Use American forms (e.g., "meter," not "metre," "organize," not "organise," "color," not
"colour," "sulfur," not "sulphur.")
Use the ODP preferred spellings listed in the ODP Dictionary.
Include diacritical (accent) marks.
Refer to Hyphenation and Compound Words or use Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth
Edition, for guidelines on hyphenation (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary.htm [leaving ODP
Tense, Space, and Time: Preferred Usage
In scientific writing it is critically important to distinguish clearly between time and space, present
time and time past, past events, and observable evidence consequent to those events. Use the
In discussions of fossils and organisms, observe the following distinction: organisms appear
in time, that is, in some moment in geologic history (e.g., Globorotalia tosaensis occurs above
the Matuyama/Brunhes boundary at 0.65 Ma.); fossils are present in space, that is, at some level
of the stratigraphic column (e.g., Pulleniatina obliquiloculata is common in the core catcher
assemblage (not "commonly occurs").
Ideally, the term "horizon" denotes a plane or surface only; thus, it has no thickness. When
describing a section of sediment or other lithologic entity, use "zone," "interval," or a
comparable term instead.
Use the present tense to describe what is in the core. ("The sample contains no foraminifers."
"Evidence of bioturbation is common.")
Use the past tense to discuss methods and operations. ("We examined a thin section.")
Use the past tense to discuss what happened in the geologic past. ("The area of deposition
subsided during the late Eocene.")
When characterizing sediments and rocks from cores and other evidence obtained from drill
holes, describe geological units in a downhole direction but interpret geological events in an
uphole direction. When describing qualitative or quantitative variations with depth, writers must
take special care to leave the reader unconfused about vertical direction.
For further discussion of space and time concepts, see the section on Stratigraphic Names.
Units of Measure
Use metric units. (ODP follows the International System of Units [SI] guidelines for units.)
If for any reason you must mention quantities in other units, the metric equivalent should be
included in parentheses immediately following the nonmetric quantity.
For detailed information about the International System of Units, refer to the booklet of that
name, edited by Barry N. Taylor (Natl. Inst. Stand. Technol., Spec. Publ. 330, 62 pages [Aug.
1991], available from the U.S. Govt. Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402). The
publication is also available on the internet in PDF format at
http://www.physics.nist.gov/Pubs/SP330/sp330sl.pdf (leaving ODP web pages).
Manuscripts submitted for publication in the Proceedings volumes should be intelligible to
geoscientists in general, not merely to specialists in the field of deep ocean drilling. The abstract,
introduction, and conclusions in each paper should be written so that they can be understood by
readers from any geological discipline. Sections on methods and procedures can be
considerably more specialized and should be written for scientists within the same field as the
writer. This writing on two levels permits cross-correlation of results among different fields of
geoscience, while offering specialists an opportunity to discuss their work in highly technical
For more detailed guidelines on writing style refer to The Chicago Manual of Style (University
of Chicago Press). (To order, see http://www.press.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/hfs.cgi/00/12245.ctl
[leaving ODP web pages]).
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Modified on Friday, 13-Aug-2004 13:35:21 CDT.