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 years").
  • 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.


    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 section.
  • 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 nepenthes).
  • 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 Oceans").

    Citing Figures, Tables, and Plates

  • Figures
  • Tables
  • Plates
  • When referring to another author's figure, table, or plate, use lower case letters. Example: "(Martin, 1978, fig. 6)"
  • For multiple callouts, use the following as a model:


  • 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 express.
  • 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 reducing speed."
  • 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."

    Hyphenation and Compound Words

  • 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 ( [leaving ODP web pages]).


  • Italicize:
  • Do not italicize:
  • Anything that should appear in italics in the final publication needs to be in italics or underlined in your manuscript.
  • Italics may be useful for the introduction of a new term, but not for frequent emphasis.


  • Spell out:
  • Mixed forms may be used for very large numbers ("5 million").
  • 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 ( [leaving ODP web pages]).

    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 following guidelines:
  • 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 (leaving ODP web pages).

    Writing Style

  • 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 terminology.
  • For more detailed guidelines on writing style refer to The Chicago Manual of Style (University of Chicago Press). (To order, see [leaving ODP web pages]).

    Terminology Guidelines

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    Modified on Friday, 13-Aug-2004 13:35:21 CDT.