Twelve Tips for Terrific Texts: Tip #11 – Units (Polishing stage)

We’re on the eleventh and penultimate tip in my scicomm series: “units.”

Science is full of measurements, so we regularly include units in our writing. It’s tempting to keep the unit right next to the number, for example so that they don’t get separated at the end of a line (google non-breaking spaces if this is a problem for you!). Typically, that would be incorrect. For most units, there should be a space between the two, like 5 km, 7 mL, or 22 W.

Of course, there’s always exceptions, and your style guide will be your final authority on these things. One occasional exception to the rule is units of degrees (Celsius or Fahrenheit), which may or may not have a space, depending on the style guide. In many cases, they follow the same rule and use a space: 10 °C. This is what’s recommended by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (the people who decide SI units). The AMA style guide used to call for no spaces (10°C) but now uses a space. The University of Chicago Press and the Oxford University Press both call for no spaces.

Most disciplines & journals have a preferred style guide, so it’s worth looking up which ones predominate your field. They can advise you on many conventions and rules, and keep your writing crisp and consistent!

Stay tuned for the final tip!

Communicating your science: polishing: units. There should be a space between the number and unit: 5 km, 7 mL, 22 W. Except for degrees (C or F) – check your preferred style guide.

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