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Physics and Astronomy Writing - Part II. Physics 695 2011 Some material courtesy of Dr. William Wing, Phys. Dept., U. of Arizona Dr. Celia Elliott, Physics Dept., U. of Illinois Chem. Eng. Dept., Texas Tech. Style Manuals. AIP style manual (4th edition)

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physics and astronomy writing part ii

Physics and Astronomy Writing - Part II

Physics 695


Some material courtesy of

Dr. William Wing, Phys. Dept., U. of Arizona

Dr. Celia Elliott, Physics Dept., U. of Illinois

Chem. Eng. Dept., Texas Tech.

style manuals
Style Manuals
  • AIP style manual (4th edition)
  • IEEE Style Manual
  • SFSU Thesis Guidelines
    • use AIP or IEEE style with special intro pages)


Notation k (kilo), as in kV, kW, kA, kg, keV, is always written in lower case.

Elements not capitalized when written as words (oxygen, lead, vanadium)

Abbreviations for chemical elements are capitalized (O, Pb, V, Cf, Am, Cm).

Same rules for units, e.g., curie (Ci), watt (W), volt (V), joule (J), tesla (T).

Proper noun used as an adjective is capitalized, e.g., Poisson’s equation, Fourier transformation, Monte Carlo method.

However, if the proper noun is used to name an entirely new class of things, the resulting new things are treated as common nouns and are not capitalized. Thus, we have Fermi energy level and Fermi-Dirac statistics, but fermions and fermium.

capitalization in astronomy
Capitalization in Astronomy
  • Capitalize
    • Planet names; Moon names
    • Star names
    • Constellation names
    • Galaxy names

Acronyms and Abbreviations

Common nouns not capitalized when written as words; only acronyms capitalized, e.g., very large scale integration (VLSI), ballistic core radius (BCR), superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID).

Proper nouns are capitalized, e.g., National Science Foundation (NSF).

Some common acronyms not capitalized, e.g., alternating current (ac), direct current (dc), electromotive force (emf), radio frequency (rf).

Acronyms and abbreviations must be defined at their first usage.

Apostrophe not used to make acronym or abbreviation plural—just add lower-case s, e.g., AFMs (atomic force microscopes), Eqs. (equations).

Do not begin sentence with an acronym, abbreviation, numeral, or symbol. Wrong: “Fig. 1 shows …” “TEM was used …” “α-particle transport occurs” “50 samples were prepared …”

Right: “Figure 1 shows ” “Tunneling electron microscopy was used …” “Alpha-particle transport occurs …” “Fifty samples were prepared …”


Nuclides and Their States

  • Mass number (anterior superscript) 235U
  • State of ionization (posterior superscript) Ca2+
  • Excited state (posterior superscript) 110Agm, 14N*
  • Number of atoms in a molecule (posterior subscript) 14N2
  • Numbers and Numerals
  • • Write cardinal numbers zero through nine and ordinal numbers first through ninth in words.
  • • Use numerals for cardinal numbers 10 and greater and ordinal numbers 10th and greater.
  • • Always write quantities as numerals that have been measured or calculated (rather than counted).
  • 10 liters 1.75 inches 6 kg 2.4 ms
  • Fractional numbers written as decimals must have a zero preceding the decimal point, e.g., 0.17 μg.

Numbers that begin a sentence are always written as words; thus, a sentence that begins with a quantity that was measured or calculated must be recast.

For clarity, adjacent numbers should be written in a combination of numerals and words:

fifteen 10-mg doses twelve 20-percent doped samples

15 one-dose oral vaccines 6 six-hour runs

Qualifiers (“about,” “approximately,” “of order of”) should not be used with exact numbers; e.g., not “Approximately 17 of the samples were contaminated with iron filings.”


SI Derived Units

  • Frequency
    • hertz: Hz = 1/s
  • Force
    • newton: N = m kg/s2
  • Pressure, stress
    • pascal: Pa = N/m2 = kg/m s2
  • Energy, work, quantity of heat
    • joule: J = N m = m2 kg/s2
  • Power, radiant flux
    • watt: W = J/s = m2 kg/s3
  • Quantity of electricity, electric charge
    • coulomb: C = s A
  • Electric potential
    • volt: V = W/A = m2 kg/s3 A
  • Capacitance
    • farad: F = C/V = s4 A2/m2 kg

Electric resistance

    • ohm:  = V/A = m2 kg/s3 A2
  • Conductance
    • siemens: S = A/V = s3 A2/m2 kg
  • Magnetic flux
    • weber: Wb = V s = m2 kg/s2 A
  • Magnetic flux density, magnetic induction
    • tesla: T = Wb/m2 = kg/s2 A
  • Inductance
    • henry: H = Wb/A = m2 kg/s2 A2
  • Luminous flux
    • lumen: lm = cd sr
  • Illuminance
    • lux: lx = lm/m2 = cd sr/m2
  • Activity (ionizing radiation)
    • becquerel: Bq = 1/s
  • Absorbed dose
    • gray: Gy = J/kg = m2/s2

Dynamic viscosity

    • pascal second: Pa s = kg/m s
  • Moment of force (torque)
    • newton meter: N m = m2 kg/s2
  • Surface tension
    • newton per meter: N/m = kg/s2
  • Heat flux density, irradiance
    • watt per square meter: W/m2 = kg/s3
  • Heat capacity, entropy
    • joule per kelvin: J/K = m2 kg/s2 K
  • Specific heat capacity, specific entropy
    • joule per kilogram kelvin: J/kg K = m2/s2 K
  • Specific energy
    • joule per kilogram: J/kg = m2/s2
  • Thermal conductivity
    • watt per meter kelvin: W/m K = m kg/s3 K
  • Energy density
    • joule per cubic meter: J/m3= kg/m s2
  • Electric field strength
    • volt per meter: V/m = m kg/s3 A

Electric charge density

    • coulomb per cubic meter: C/m3= s A/m3
  • Electric displacement, electric flux density
    • coulomb per square meter: C/m2 = s A/m2
  • Permittivity
    • farad per meter: F/m = s4 A2/m3 kg
  • Permeability
    • henry per meter: H/m = m kg/s2 A2
  • Molar energy
    • joule per mole: J/mol = m2 kg/s2 mol
  • Molar entropy, molar heat capacity
    • joule per mole kelvin: J/mol K = m2 kg/s2 K mol
  • Exposure (ionizing radiations)
    • coulomb per kilogram: C/kg = s A/kg
  • Absorbed dose rate
    • gray per second: Gy/s = m2/s3

Only metric prefixes for 10+6 or more have upper-case abbreviation (e.g., M = 10+6, G = 10+9, etc.). In particular, note that the prefix m indicates 10-3 and M indicates 10+6.

The abbreviation for "kilohertz" is "kHz": only the "H" is upper case. Note that the proper abbreviation for "second" is "s", not "sec". The same abbreviation is used for the singular and plural form of a unit. A period is not placed after an abbreviated unit, unless it is at the end of the sentence.

Spaces with units:

There should always be one blank space between a number and a unit: "5 kHz", not "5kHz"

There is no space between the metric prefix and the base unit.


Some Problem Expressions

  • *The signal generator had a 15 kHz frequency.
  • Units of measurement are nouns; cannot use to modify another noun.
  • Proper phrasing: The signal generator had a frequency of 15 kHz.
  • *6 cm long
  • The proper phrasing could be:
    • 6 cm in length the length is 6 cm having a length of 6 cm
  • Choose metric prefix that will make the numerical value between
  • 0.1 and 1000. However, values of a parameter in a table should
  • have the same metric prefix.Do not use metric prefixes when using scientific notation: e.g.,
    • "4 x 105 m/s", not "4 x 102 km/s".
  • Never use a double metric prefix.
  • Proper abbreviations for "alternating current, direct current, and root-mean-square" are lower case "ac, dc, rms". However, if the term appears in a title or as first letter in a sentence, use upper case: "AC, DC, RMS".

Less water feed will be vaporized due to heat losses and this affects steam economy

While trying to read the mass flow rate of air to the engine, the rubber hose from the venturi to the manometer melted shut.

After obtaining results for the infrared spectrometer and comparing it to the predicted calculations, we concluded there was a problem.


The way to improve your grades is to take good class notes, to study effectively, and preparing carefully for exams.

The type of failure can be determined by a tensile test. For example, whether the failure was due to a ductile or brittle fracture.

The % difference for the two methods of obtaining the heat transfer coefficient was 52% and the measured values were 10 and 20% lower than the theory predicted respectively.

And we see that the experimental result agrees well with theory.

But this is not the final solution.


Ways to use equations with text.

  • Refer to the equation number in a sentence; the equation is a separate sentence. For example: The voltage, V, and current, I, in a resistor are related by Eq. 3. V = I R (3)
  • Often more elegant to include equation in sentence:
    • The power, P, dissipated in a device is given by
      • P = I V                   (4)
    • where I is the current in the device and V is the voltage across the device. For the special case of a resistor, the relation between voltage and current, Eq. 3, can be used to express the power as a function of only voltage:
      • P = V2/R.               (5)
  • Notice the period at the end of Eq. 5, since it is the end of a sentence.

Note how equations are always punctuated, with a full stop or a comma as appropriate.

The equation should read as part of the text – although displayed. It would be very rare for there to be any other form of punctuation. Here is an example of an equation that can be punctuated with a full stop:

Another equation follows, which is punctuated with a comma:

because there is text following it, just as if it were part of a sentence, which it is.

vectors tensors matrices
Vectors, Tensors, Matrices
  • Vectors
    • Boldface Italic: Fields E and B
    • Arrows: Fields and
  • Tensors
    • sans-serif bold italic, T
  • Matrices
    • boldface italic,A =

Statement of Experimental Results

Our value was

kB=1.379±0.012 x 10-23 J/K

at a 95% confidence level.

  • Note format:
    • Uncertainty quoted to two significant figures(never more; sometimes only one)
    • Result in proper scientific notation; uncertainty maintains same decimal place
software for physicists astronomers
Software for Physicists & Astronomers
  • Scientific Word Processing
    • MS Word + Equation Editor; Scientific Word; LaTex/MikTeX; LyX
  • Slide Presentation
    • MS Powerpoint+Equation Editor
    • TeX or LyX with Beamer document class
  • Poster Presentation
    • Large Powerpoint print or TeX/Beamer print
  • Symbolic Math (Algebra, integrals,...)
    • Mathematica
Numerical Calculations, Plotting, Curve Fit
  • Astronomy Data Analysis
    • IRAF (Image Reduction and Analysis Facility)
  • Computer Data Acquisition
    • LabView; MATLAB + Inst. Control & Data Acq.
  • Programming
    • MATLAB, IDL, C
  • Electronic Schematics (& Simulation)
    • PSPICE (Simulation Prog. for Integrated Cir. Elx)(Free version of PSPICE 9 available on web)
  • Mechanical Drawing (CAD)
    • AutoCAD, TurboCAD(Free version of TurboCAD LE available on web)