Numbers, Units, and Mechanics

Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Numbers, Units and Mechanics’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.


A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.


A Note on the Different Versions

All different versions/banks have been used and refined following student and instructor feedback, and all of them focus on the same important concepts. We cycle different versions across different terms to minimize the potential that students enrolled in our course in concurrent terms will share answers (e.g. we do not use the same version in concurrent terms).

Please note that while the initial choice of which version to use is somewhat arbitrary, it is important to use the same version for the pre-, in- and post-class activities as a whole unit; this is because some of the questions appearing in the in-class lesson/workshop and/or post-class activities build on work completed in the pre-class activities (e.g. do not use pre-class version 1, and post-class version 2 together).

Numbers, Units, Mechanics: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint version), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.


Activity 1 (work alone or together, 10 min)

You should allow a total of 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1.


Activity 2 (work alone or together, 10 min + 5-10 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 25 - 30 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 2, before spending a further 5 to 10 minutes flashing the solutions up to Activities 1 and 2 (PowerPoint) so that they can all see what the correct answers were (and some examples of re-written sentences). If you are running short on time, parts of Activity 2 can be skipped; there are four multiple-choice questions, so you could simply ask students to consider the first two if you are in a hurry. They can always complete the others outside of class if they are interested in doing so.


Activity 3 (work together, 10 min, total time elapsed = 35 - 40 min)

You should allow 10 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3. They must write a short story (100-150 words) comprising all the mechanics in Table 2 on their worksheets. There is a similar activity on the post-class assignment, so it is a good idea for them to have a go at this. As above, if you are running short on time, you can ask students to complete this activity outside of class. However, try to leave enough time so that their partners can critique the parts of their work that they have completed (even if this is just a few sentences of their short story). This will allow them to tackle Activity 4 (a very short assignment to complete outside of class).


Final Slide (~30 sec)

Before students leave, you should show the final slide in the PowerPoint, which shows an example of a short story comprising just two sentences that incorporates all the mechanics required of ‘Partner B’ in Table 2 (Activity 3). Stress that this is just an example, but it might give some inspiration to anyone struggling a little bit, and who wants to complete the activities outside of class.


Activity 4 (take home, ~ 5 min)

You should encourage students to tackle the ‘homework’, which will not take long to complete. It is designed to make them think about editing their work based on peer feedback (from both a mechanics and content-based angle). They are asked to improve the quality of the short story they wrote and received feedback on in Activity 3.

Numbers, Units and Mechanics: Student Pre-Class Activities

Working with Numbers, Units and Mechanics

As science communicators, you will often have to include highly specific information in your written materials. For example, you might be writing a lab report in which you provide numerical details about the method you used in your experiment, or you might wish to simplify complex sentences with abbreviations to make your text less clunky. There are some rules to follow if you want to do this effectively and achieve your basic goal of enhancing the readability of your work.

In a few cases, you might have to make a judgment call as to which rule should be followed; when working with numbers especially, there are sometimes occasions when rules from different style guides clash. Having said this, if you plan your work with clarity in mind, most sentences can be simplified to follow the important, universally accepted rules. When this is not possible, you should follow the one golden rule: Always be consistent in your style.

Some Basic Rules

  1. Do not start a sentence with a numeral (e.g. write ‘Seventy’, not ‘70’)
  2. Use numerals when writing about counted items, percentages, decimals, magnifications, and official scales (e.g. write: ‘We caught 27 mice, which we estimated to make up 40% of the local population. These data suggest there are 520 mice per km2. We viewed mouse hairs under a microscope at 40x magnification. These hairs measured 3.4 on the Rodent Hair Thickness scale.’)
  3. Spell small numbers (e.g. write: ‘One, two, three’, all the way to nine)
  4. Use numerals for larger numbers (e.g. use ‘10, 11, 12’ etc.)
  5. Make much larger numbers easier to read with commas and periods; if a number has four or more digits, separate them with a comma and do this for every three numbers in the sequence (e.g. 2,546,457). If the number has six or more digits and it is appropriate to be slightly less accurate, simplify it further by using a period and the following format: ‘Approximately 2.5 million.’
  6. Avoid having two distinct numbers next to one another, sometimes by using a mixture of writing and numbers (e.g. write: ‘We tested 15 different 19-year-olds’ or: ‘We tested fifteen 19-year-olds’, not ‘we tested 15 19-year-olds’)
  7. Spell official names and true nouns (e.g. write about the ‘First’ Law of Thermodynamics, not the ‘1st’ Law)

Always remember the golden rule of being consistent in your style. If two rules clash in one sentence, you will have to favour one over the other. Make sure you continue to favour that one over the other throughout your text.

Question 1 (5 marks)

Read the sentences below and pay attention to the numerical-based errors, which have been bolded for you. Copy and paste the sentences and then edit the bolded sections to remove the errors (1 mark each). Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.

In 2003, Hurricane Juan, one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, made landfall on September 29th with winds of up to one hundred and seventy kilometres per hour. In Halifax harbour, storm surges of one point five to 2 metres were reported. Throughout Nova Scotia, 100,000,000 trees were damaged during the storm, resulting in blocked streets and downed power lines. Overall, Juan caused $200 million in damage and left 300000 Canadians without power for up to 2 weeks.

Question 2 (5 marks)

There are five numerical-based errors in total in the paragraph below, but these have not been highlighted for you this time; try to find and edit them appropriately (1 mark each). Bold the changes you make so it is easy to see what you changed. Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you. Do not make more than five changes or you will be penalized!

The 1929 Grand Banks earthquake is the 6th largest earthquake to have occurred in Canada or in surrounding Canadian waters. The epicentre of the earthquake was located on the edge of the Grand Banks, a group of underwater plateaus, 265 kilometres south of Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake caused an underwater landslide, resulting in the formation of a tsunami. 3 successive waves hit within 30 minutes of each other, traveling at approximately 40 kilometres per hour, 71.4% slower than the tsunami’s initial speed. The tsunami increased sea level approximately three to 7 metres above normal in most areas, with 1 area reaching 27 metres above normal. Communities along the Burin Peninsula were among the most affected by the tsunami as twenty-eight individuals were killed and hundreds more were left homeless.

Questions 3, 4, and 5 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Each of the following three questions feature sentences that are written awkwardly or in which there are competing style rules in play. For each sentence, you are told which rule you should follow to improve the clarity and will need to make two changes.

As you did in the earlier questions, copy and paste the sentences and edit the erroneous parts based on the rule you have been told to follow (2 marks for each question). Make sure you bold your changes.

To answer Q3, follow the rule that states you should not write two distinct numbers next to each other. (Hint: In this case, it is acceptable to rearrange the sentence to address this issue.)

Q3: Recently, a total of 151 individuals participated in two separate studies that assessed behaviours displayed while driving a car during a crash or near-crash incident. The participants in the novice-driver study consisted of 42 16-year-olds while participants in the experienced-driver study consisted of 109 18 – 72-year-olds.

To answer Q4, follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (crashes and near-crashes) and words for counts of another (months).

Q4: In the experienced-driver study, 42 crashes and 476 near-crashes were recorded over nine months, whereas participants in the novice-driver study had 31 crashes and one hundred and thirty six near-crashes over 18 months.

To answer Q5, follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (months) and words for comparisons of another (probability).

Q5: Data analysis showed that the experienced drivers with an average of 18 months of driving experience were more than two times as likely to crash if they were dialling a cell phone. Novice drivers who started the study with less than nine months of experience were 8 times more likely to be in a crash or near-crash while dialling a cell phone.

Using Abbreviations (and Acronyms)

Just as with numbers, there are multiple rules to learn about using abbreviations correctly. The good news is that these rules tend to be a little less ambiguous in terms of their application. There will still be occasions when you need to make a judgment call, but, as before, remember that the goals of consistency and clarity should guide you.

Acronyms work similarly to abbreviations (in a sense, they are a type of abbreviation). Acronyms are formed by using the first letters of each word in a phrase or compound word, whereas we usually think of abbreviations as shortened versions of a word or phrase. So, CIA is an acronym (for ‘Central Intelligence Agency), whereas ‘abbrev’ would be an abbreviation of ‘abbreviation’.

Some Basic Rules

With clarity in mind, a general rule of thumb is that you should abbreviate (make shorter) a particularly wordy phrase or compound word that will be used more than once in a body of text. For example, if you plan to mention the University of British Columbia more than once, it would be easier to digest as a reader if you use the acronym ‘UBC’. For abbreviations or acronyms that might not be widely known by members of the target audience, use them only after you have written the full form first. For example: ‘The University of Washington (UW) is one of the best universities in Washington State. Over 40,000 students attend the Seattle campus of UW.’

A few more general rules include:

  1. Use a period, and shorten official titles before and after a person’s name (e.g. ‘Dr. Jones, Ph.D.’). Only use periods when a title has been shortened though.
  2. Abbreviate common units of measurement (e.g. ‘g’ for grams, ‘kg’ for kilograms, ‘lb’ for pounds, ‘ml’ for millilitres, ‘ft’ for feet, ‘g’ for micrograms etc.)
  3. Abbreviate common latin terms (e.g. write ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’, not ‘exempli gratia’ and ‘et cetera’) but in scientific writing you should write the full name for a species the first time you write it before subsequently abbreviating the genus part of the name (e.g. ‘E. coli’ is only acceptable after you have told your audience that the ‘E’ stands for ‘Escherichia’).
  4. Abbreviate very common words or phrases. Deciding whether something is sufficiently common can result in a judgment call, but a good rule of thumb is to ask whether someone would know what you mean if they have no specialist knowledge of your subject (e.g. it would be fine to say ‘TV’ rather than ‘television’, but it would not be fine to say ‘PCR’ instead of ‘polymerase chain reaction’ unless you were communicating with biochemists).
  5. Abbreviate very famous organizations or institutions, as well as compound-worded countries (e.g. ‘BBC’, ‘CNN’, ‘CIA’, ‘NATO’, ‘USA’, ‘UK’). Whether or not the acronym uses a period to separate letters is usually up to you, but be consistent in your style.
  6. Do not abbreviate words at the beginning of a sentence unless they are common acronyms or abbreviations.
  7. Do not abbreviate days or months in formal writing (e.g. use ‘Tuesday’ instead of ‘Tues’, and ‘February’ instead of ‘Feb’.
  8. Do not abbreviate words as you might in text messaging style (e.g. do not write ‘lol’, ‘nite’, ‘omg’ etc.)

Questions 6, 7, and 8 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

The following multiple-choice questions each feature four sentences (answers), of which only one is written in the correct style for acronyms and abbreviations. Try to select the correct one.

Question 6: You are discussing new potential targets for drug development.

A: A compound that blocks Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) synthesis could be the new target for potential drug development.
B: A compound that could be the new target for potential drug development blocks Human Immunodeficiency Virus deoxyribonucleic acid synthesis.
C: A compound that blocks the DNA synthesis of HIV could be the new target for potential drug development against the virus.
D: HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) DNA synthesis is blocked by a compound that could be the new target for potential drug development.

Question 7: You are writing about the volunteer program you participated in.

A: The SMaRT (Scientific Methods and Research Training) outreach program allows undergrad volunteers to lead elementary school students through interactive science experiments that supplement the grade’s curriculum.
B: The Scientific Methods and Research Training (SMaRT) outreach program allows undergrad volunteers to lead elementary school students through interactive science experiments that supplement the grade’s curriculum.
C: The Scientific Methods and Research Training outreach program allows undergrad volunteers to lead elementary school students through interactive science experiments that supplement the grade’s curriculum.
D: The SMaRT outreach program allows undergrad volunteers to lead elementary school students through interactive science experiments that supplement the grade’s curriculum.

Question 8: You are now talking about a well-known model organism.

A: Caenorhabdhitis elegans has been used extensively as a model organism because it is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. The C. elegans genome was the first multicellular organism to be completely sequenced.
B: Caenorhabdhitis elegans has been used extensively as a model organism because it is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. C. elegans was the first multicellular organism genome to be completely sequenced.
C: The nematode Caenorhabdhitis elegans has been used extensively as a model organism because it is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. C. elegans was the first multicellular organism genome to be completely sequenced.
D: The nematode Caenorhabdhitis elegans has been used extensively as a model organism because it is one of the simplest organisms with a nervous system. The C. elegans genome was the first multicellular organism to be completely sequenced.

Questions 9, 10, and 11 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Consider the three sentences below (one for each question). Each one features one abbreviation or acronym-based error.

Copy and paste each sentence and then bold the error in each one (1 mark). Then copy and paste the sentence again but re-write it appropriately to remove the error (1 mark). Make sure you bold your changes. Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.

Q9: Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are the world’s second largest living fish and can be found in all the world’s temperate oceans. These fish are fully protected in many countries, including the U.K., Malta, New Zealand, and USA, as populations have been rapidly declining.

Q10: On average, basking sharks grow to be 6 to 8 mts (20 – 26 ft) in length.

Q11: These fish are rarely spotted on the west coast; however, in August 2013, a shark was photographed off the west coast of Vancouver Island by researcher Wendy Szaniszlo. Ms. Szaniszlo did not know what species of shark she had photographed until shark expert Dr. Jackie King, PhD., identified it as a basking shark.

Numbers, Units and Mechanics: Student Pre-Class Activities

Working with Numbers

As science communicators, you will often have to include highly specific information in your written materials. For example, you might be writing a lab report in which you will provide numerical details about the method you used in your experiment, or you might wish to simplify complex sentences with abbreviations to make your text less clunky. There are some rules to follow if you want to do this effectively and achieve your basic goal of enhancing the readability of your work.

In a few cases, you might have to make a judgment call as to which rule should be followed; when working with numbers especially, there are sometimes occasions when rules from different style guides clash. Having said this, if you plan your work with clarity in mind, most sentences can be simplified to follow the important, universally accepted rules. When this is not possible, you should follow the one golden rule: Always be consistent in your style.

Some Basic Rules

  1. Do not start a sentence with a numeral (e.g. write ‘Seventy’, not ‘70’)
  2. Use numerals when writing about counted items, percentages, decimals, magnifications, and official scales (e.g. write: ‘We caught 27 mice, which we estimated to make up 40% of the local population. These data suggest there are 520 mice per km2. We viewed mouse hairs under a microscope at 40x magnification. These hairs measured 3.4 on the Rodent Hair Thickness scale.’)
  3. Spell small numbers (e.g. write: ‘One, two, three’, all the way to nine)
  4. Use numerals for larger numbers (e.g. use ‘10, 11, 12’ etc.)
  5. Make much larger numbers easier to read with commas and periods; if a number has four or more digits, separate them with a comma and do this for every three numbers in the sequence (e.g. 2,546,457). If the number has six or more digits and it is appropriate to be slightly less accurate, simplify it further by using a period and the following format: ‘Approximately 2.5 million.’
  6. Avoid having two distinct numbers next to one another, sometimes by using a mixture of writing and numbers (e.g. write: ‘We tested 15 different 19-year-olds’ or: ‘We tested fifteen 19-year-olds’, not ‘we tested 15 19-year-olds’)
  7. Spell official names and true nouns (e.g. write about the ‘First’ Law of Thermodynamics, not the ‘1st’ Law)

Always remember the golden rule of being consistent in your style. If two rules clash in one sentence, you will have to favour one over the other. Make sure you continue to favour that one over the other throughout your text.

Question 1 (5 marks)

Read the sentences below and pay attention to the five numerical-based errors, which have been bolded for you. Copy and paste the sentences and then edit the bolded sections to remove the errors (1 mark each). Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.

In the year 526 AD, the 3rd most deadly earthquake of all time struck Antioch and killed approximately 250000 people. 20,000 fewer people were killed in 2004 by a tsunami caused by a quake in the Indian Ocean. Scientists believe an earthquake in the 1960s was the worst ever in terms of its magnitude; it measured nine point five on the Richter scale. After a quake occurs, the plates of the earth’s crust that are involved can continue to ‘fault’ for hours afterwards. Time lag between faults can range from 30 seconds to ten minutes, with major faulting able to cause the planet to vibrate by as much as 1 cm.

Question 2 (5 marks)

There are five numerical-based errors in total in the paragraphs below, but they have not been highlighted for you this time; try to find and edit them appropriately (1 mark each). Bold the changes you make so it is easy to see what you changed. Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you. Do not make more than five changes or you will be penalized!

An independent scientific review panel recently concluded that the death of over one hundred whales, which became stranded on a beach, was caused by sonar testing in the ocean. Many beach strandings in the past 30 years have been blamed on sonar tests but a lack of complete evidence meant the link was indefinite. Scientists have used data from beached whales to estimate population sizes of certain species around the world. Although this has been 1 small benefit to come from a distressing spectacle, it was very sad that spade-toothed beaked whales had to die for scientists to get their first ever close-up look at them. Three partial skeletons in over one hundred and forty years had been all there was to go on, before two individuals beached in New Zealand in 2010. Measuring approximately five metres in length, these whales were initially mistaken for a different, more common species. 13 species only live off the coast of New Zealand, but it took DNA analysis to tell them apart from Gray’s beaked whales. Together, these two species make up fourteen % of the Mesoplodont whales, which are the most poorly known group of mammals alive.

Questions 3, 4 and 5 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Each of the following three questions feature sentences that are written awkwardly or in which there are competing style rules in play. For each sentence, you are told which rule you should follow to improve the clarity and will need to make two changes.

As you did in the earlier questions, copy and paste the sentences and edit the erroneous parts based on the rule you have been told to follow (2 marks for each question). Make sure you bold your changes.

Question 3: There were 1,156 tornadoes in the United States in 2009. Of these, there were 20 3-star magnitude twisters and 82 2-star magnitude twisters.

To answer Question 3, follow the rule that states you should not write two distinct numbers next to each other (but leave the numbers attached to the star magnitude scale, as this is an official scale).

Question 4: In the first month, six out of 10 reported tornadoes were confirmed whereas in the 12th month 48 out of 52 reported tornadoes were confirmed.

To answer Question 4, follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (tornadoes) and words for counts of another (months).

Question 5: There was an approximate seven-fold increase in the number of tornadoes reported between the ninth and 10th months of 2009, but a 16-fold decrease between the 10th and 11th months.

To answer Question 5, follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (months) and words for comparisons of another (magnitudes).

Using abbreviations (and acronyms)

Just as with numbers, there are multiple rules to learn about using abbreviations correctly. The good news is that these rules tend to be a little less ambiguous in terms of their application. There will still be occasions when you need to make a judgment call, but, as before, remember that the goals of consistency and clarity should guide you.

Acronyms work similarly to abbreviations (in a sense, they are a type of abbreviation). Acronyms are formed by using the first letters of each word in a phrase or compound word, whereas we usually think of abbreviations as shortened versions of a word or phrase. So, CIA is an acronym (for ‘Central Intelligence Agency), whereas ‘abbrev’ would be an abbreviation of ‘abbreviation’.

Some Basic Rules

With clarity in mind, a general rule of thumb is that you should abbreviate (make shorter) a particularly wordy phrase or compound word that will be used more than once in a body of text. For example, if you plan to mention the University of British Columbia more than once, it would be easier to digest as a reader if you use the acronym ‘UBC’. For abbreviations or acronyms that might not be widely known by members of the target audience, use them only after you have written the full form first. For example: The University of Washington (UW) is one of the best universities in Washington State. Over 40,000 students attend the Seattle campus of UW.

A few more general rules include:

  1. Use a period, and shorten official titles before and after a person’s name (e.g. ‘Dr. Jones, Ph.D.’). Only use periods when a title has been shortened though.
  2. Abbreviate common units of measurement (e.g. ‘g’ for grams, ‘kg’ for kilograms, ‘lb’ for pounds, ‘ml’ for millilitres, ‘ft’ for feet, ‘g’ for micrograms etc.)
  3. Abbreviate common latin terms (e.g. write ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’, not ‘exempli gratia’ and ‘et cetera’) but in scientific writing you should write the full name for a species the first time you write it before subsequently abbreviating the genus part of the name (e.g. ‘E. coli’ is only acceptable after you have told your audience that the ‘E’ stands for ‘Escherichia’).
  4. Abbreviate very common words or phrases. Deciding whether something is sufficiently common can result in a judgment call, but a good rule of thumb is to ask whether someone would know what you mean if they have no specialist knowledge of your subject (e.g. it would be fine to say ‘TV’ rather than ‘television’, but it would not be fine to say ‘PCR’ instead of ‘polymerase chain reaction’ unless you were communicating with biochemists only).
  5. Abbreviate very famous organizations or institutions, as well as compound-worded countries (e.g. ‘BBC’, ‘CNN’, ‘CIA’, ‘NATO’, ‘USA’, ‘UK’). Whether or not the acronym uses a period to separate letters is usually up to you, but be consistent in your style.
  6. Do not abbreviate words at the beginning of a sentence unless they are common acronyms or abbreviations.
  7. Do not abbreviate days or months in formal writing (e.g. use ‘Tuesday’ instead of ‘Tues’, and ‘February’ instead of ‘Feb’.
  8. Do not abbreviate words as you might in text messaging style (e.g. do not write ‘lol’, ‘nite’, ‘omg’ etc.)

Questions 6, 7, and 8 (1 mark each, 3 marks total)

The following multiple-choice questions each feature four sentences (answers), of which only one is written in the correct style for acronyms and abbreviations. Try to select the correct one.

Question 6: You are writing the opening lines of an essay about your favourite charity.

A: Supporters of the National Center for Science Education campaign to have evolution and climate change taught extensively in schools.
B: Supporters of NCSE campaign to have evolution and climate change taught extensively in schools.
C: Supporters of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) campaign to have evolution and climate change taught extensively in schools.
D: Supporters of NCSE (National Center for Science Education) campaign to have evolution and climate change taught extensively in schools.

Question 7: You are now talking about a bird that was part of a famous evolutionary case study.

A: The vegetarian finch (Platyspiza crassirostris) was one of the birds initially studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands. P. crassirostris individuals primarily eat plants but do occasionally eat caterpillars.
B: The vegetarian finch (Platyspiza crassirostris) was one of the birds initially studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands. Platyspiza crassirostris individuals primarily eat plants but do occasionally eat caterpillars.
C: Platyspiza crassirostris was one of the birds initially studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands. Vegetarian finch (Platyspiza crassirostris) individuals primarily eat plants but do occasionally eat caterpillars.
D: Platyspiza crassirostris was one of the birds initially studied by Charles Darwin on the Galapagos Islands. Vegetarian finch (P. crassirostris) individuals primarily eat plants but do occasionally eat caterpillars.

Question 8: Now you are discussing how technology has aided evolutionary studies.

A: DNA studies have recently shown that ‘Darwin’s finches’ are actually all tanagers.
B: DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) studies have recently shown that ‘Darwin’s finches’ are actually all tanagers.
C: Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid (DNA) studies have recently shown that ‘Darwin’s finches’ are actually all tanagers.
D: Deoxyribonucleic acid studies have recently shown that ‘Darwin’s finches’ are actually all tanagers.

Questions 9, 10, and 11 (2 marks each, 6 marks total)

Consider the three sentences below (one for each question). Each one features one abbreviation or acronym-based error.

Copy and paste each sentence and then bold the error in each one (1 mark). Then copy and paste the sentence again but re-write it appropriately (1 mark). Make sure you bold your changes. Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.

Question 9: Professor Reilly studies ‘ring species’ such as herring gulls (Larus spp.). Her conservation-conscious colleague, Thomas Deane, MSc, finds it fascinating how only gulls from the more closely linked populations around the globe can interbreed.

Question 10: Herring gulls that comprise the populations making up this ring can be seen along the coasts of UK, USA and CAN throughout the year.

Question 11: These gulls can measure up to 26 inches (66 cm) long and typically weigh between 1.5 and 3.5 lb.

Numbers, Unit and Mechanics: Student Pre-Class Activities

Working with Numbers

As science communicators, you will often have to include highly specific information in your written materials. For example, you might be writing a lab report in which you will provide numerical details about the method you used in your experiment, or you might wish to simplify complex sentences with abbreviations to make your text less clunky. There are some rules to follow if you want to do this effectively and achieve your basic goal of enhancing the readability of your work.

In a few cases, you might have to make a judgment call as to which rule should be followed; when working with numbers especially, there are sometimes occasions when rules from different style guides clash. Having said this, if you plan your work with clarity in mind, most sentences can be simplified to follow the important, universally accepted rules. When this is not possible, you should follow the one golden rule: Always be consistent in your style.

Some Basic Rules

  1. Do not start a sentence with a numeral (e.g. write ‘Seventy’, not ‘70’)
  2. Use numerals when writing about counted items, percentages, decimals, magnifications, and official scales (e.g. write: ‘We caught 27 mice, which we estimated to make up 40% of the local population. These data suggest there are 1.5 mice per km2. We viewed mouse hairs under a microscope at 40x magnification. These hairs measured 3.4 on the Rodent Hair Thickness scale.’)
  3. Spell small numbers (e.g. write: ‘One, two, three’, all the way to nine)
  4. Use numerals for larger numbers (e.g. use ‘10, 11, 12’ etc.)
  5. Make much larger numbers easier to read with commas and periods; if a number has four or more digits, separate them with a comma and do this for every three numbers in the sequence (e.g. 2,546,457). If the number has six or more digits and it is appropriate to be slightly less accurate, simplify it further by using a period and the following format: ‘Approximately 2.5 million.’
  6. Avoid having two distinct numbers next to one another, sometimes by using a mixture of writing and numbers (e.g. write: ‘We tested 15 different 19-year-olds’ or: ‘We tested fifteen 19-year-olds’, not ‘we tested 15 19-year-olds’)
  7. Spell official names and true nouns (e.g. write about the ‘First’ Law of Thermodynamics, not the ‘1st’ Law)

Always remember the golden rule of being consistent in your style. If two rules clash in one sentence, you will have to favour one over the other. Make sure you continue to favour that one over the other throughout your text.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 (2 marks each, 14 marks total)

Listed below are seven (not 7) sentences (one for each question). Each sentence contains one numerical-based error.

Copy and paste each sentence and then bold the error in each one (1 mark). Then copy and paste the sentence again but re-write it appropriately (1 mark). Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you. Bold the edits in your re-written sentences.

Question 1: In 1831 Charles Darwin set out on a voyage of discovery with another 72 crewmembers aboard the HMS Beagle; the trip would last 1737 days and would ultimately revolutionize the way we think about the adaptation and evolution of species.

Question 2: While in the city of Valdivia, Chile, a major earthquake struck. It was estimated to measure a devastating eight point five on the Richter scale, yet experts believe there have been at least 14 deadlier quakes in human history.

Question 3: In the year 526, the 3rd most deadly quake of all time struck Antioch and killed approximately 250,000 people.

Question 4: 230,000 people were killed in 2004 by the tsunami that resulted from a quake in the Indian Ocean. Thirty-metre waves crushed everything in their path.

Question 5: The quake had the longest time lag between faulting (this was between 8.3 and ten minutes). This caused the planet to vibrate by as much as 1 cm.

Question 6: However, in terms of magnitude, the Great Chilean Earthquake that occurred in Valdivia in the nineteen sixties was the worst ever. It measured 9.5 on the Richter scale, which is set to a logarithmic scale.

Question 7: 44% of 394 experts polled in a recent study believe it is impossible for a quake to measure more than 9.7 on the Richter scale.

Questions 8, 9 and 10 (4 marks each, 12 marks total)

Each of the following three questions feature sentences that are written awkwardly or in which there are competing style rules in play. For each sentence, you are told which rule you should follow to improve the clarity and will need to make two changes.

As you did in the earlier questions, copy and paste the sentences and bold the parts that must be changed (2 marks for each question). Then copy and paste the sentences again before re-writing them (and bolding the edits) based on the rule you have been told to follow (2 marks for each question).

Question 8: There were 1,156 tornadoes in the United States in 2009. Of these, there were 20 3-star magnitude twisters and 82 2-star magnitude twisters.

Follow the rule that states you should not write two distinct numbers next to each other, but leave the numbers attached to the star magnitude scale, as this is an official scale.

Question 9: In the first month, six out of 10 reported tornadoes were confirmed whereas in the 12th month 48 out of 52 reported tornadoes were confirmed.

Follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (tornadoes) and words for counts of another (months).

Question 10: There was an approximate seven-fold increase in the number of tornadoes reported between the ninth and 10th months of 2009, but a 16-fold decrease between the 10th and 11th month.

Follow the rule of consistency to use numbers for counts of one thing (months) and words for comparisons of magnitudes.

Using Abbreviations (and Acronyms)

Just as with numbers, there are multiple rules to learn about using abbreviations correctly. The good news is that these rules tend to be a little less ambiguous in terms of their application. There will still be occasions when you need to make a judgment call, but, as before, remember that the goals of consistency and clarity should guide you.

Acronyms work similarly to abbreviations (in a sense, they are a type of abbreviation). Acronyms are formed by using the first letters of each word in a phrase or compound word, whereas we usually think of abbreviations as shortened versions of a word or phrase. So, CIA is an acronym (for ‘Central Intelligence Agency), whereas ‘abbrev’ would be an abbreviation of ‘abbreviation’.

Some Basic Rules

With clarity in mind, a general rule of thumb is that you should abbreviate (make shorter) a particularly wordy phrase or compound word that will be used more than once in a body of text. For example, if you plan to mention the University of British Columbia more than once, it would be easier to digest as a reader if you use the acronym ‘UBC’. For abbreviations or acronyms that might not be widely known by members of the target audience, use them only after you have written the full form first. For example: The University of Washington (UW) is one of the best universities in Washington State. Over 40,000 students attend the Seattle campus of UW.

A few more general rules include:

  1. Use a period, and shorten official titles before and after a person’s name (e.g. ‘Dr. Jones, Ph.D.’). Only use periods when a title has been shortened though.
  2. Abbreviate common units of measurement (e.g. ‘g’ for grams, ‘kg’ for kilograms, ‘lb’ for pounds, ‘ml’ for millilitres, ‘ft’ for feet, ‘g’ for micrograms etc.)
  3. Abbreviate common latin terms (e.g. write ‘e.g.’ and ‘etc.’, not ‘exempli gratia’ and ‘et cetera’) but in scientific writing you should write the full name for a species the first time you write it before subsequently abbreviating the genus part of the name (e.g. ‘E. coli’ is only acceptable after you have told your audience that the ‘E’ stands for ‘Escherichia’).
  4. Abbreviate very common words or phrases. Deciding whether something is sufficiently common can result in a judgment call, but a good rule of thumb is to ask whether someone would know what you mean if they have no specialist knowledge of your subject (e.g. it would be fine to say ‘TV’ rather than ‘television’, but it would not be fine to say ‘PCR’ instead of ‘polymerase chain reaction’ unless you were communicating with biochemists only).
  5. Abbreviate very famous organizations or institutions, as well as compound-worded countries (e.g. ‘BBC’, ‘CNN’, ‘CIA’, ‘NATO’, ‘USA’, ‘UK’). Whether or not the acronym uses a period to separate letters is usually up to you, but be consistent in your style.
  6. Do not abbreviate words at the beginning of a sentence unless they are common acronyms or abbreviations.
  7. Do not abbreviate days or months in formal writing (e.g. use ‘Tuesday’ instead of ‘Tues’, and ‘February’ instead of ‘Feb’.
  8. Do not abbreviate words as you might in text messaging style (e.g. do not write ‘lol’, ‘nite’, ‘omg’ etc.)

Questions 11, 12, 13 and 14 (1 mark each, 4 marks total)

The following multiple-choice questions each feature four sentences (answers), of which only one is written in the correct style for acronyms and abbreviations. Try to select the correct one.

Question 11: You are writing the opening lines of an essay about your favourite charity.

A: Supporters of the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of BC continue to discourage fishermen from taking rockfish from conservation areas
B: Supporters of MLSS continue to discourage fishermen from taking rockfish from conservation areas
C: Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of BC (MLSS) supporters continue to discourage fishermen from taking rockfish from conservation areas
D: Supporters of MLSS (Marine Life Sanctuaries Society of BC) continue to discourage fishermen from taking rockfish from conservation areas

Question 12: You are now providing information about a very rare species.

A: Black rockfish (Sebastes melanops) eat small fish. S. melanops individuals shoal together and are very aggressive feeders. B: Black rockfish (Sebastes melanops) eat small fish. Sebastes melanops individuals shoal together and are very aggressive feeders. C: Black rockfish (S. melanops) eat small fish. S. melanops individuals shoal together and are very aggressive feeders. D: Sebastes melanops eat small fish, shoal together, and are very aggressive feeders.

Question 13: You are beginning to talk about the status of this species.

A: According to Dr Siegel, black rockfish were very common in Puget Sound 50 years ago but divers rarely report seeing them now.
B: According to Dr. Siegel, black rockfish were very common in Puget Sound 50 years ago but divers rarely report seeing them now.
C: According to Doctor Siegel, black rockfish were very common in Puget Sound 50 years ago but divers rarely report seeing them now.
D: According to Doctor. Siegel, black rockfish were very common in Puget Sound 50 years ago but divers rarely report seeing them now.

Question 14: You are discussing the breeding structure of black rockfish populations.

A: SCUBA divers attached tracking devices to individuals and these showed that fish disperse wide distances to mate.
B: SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) divers attached tracking devices to individuals and these showed that fish disperse wide distances to mate.
C: Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) divers attached tracking devices to individuals and these showed that fish disperse wide distances to mate.
D: Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus divers attached tracking devices to individuals and these showed that fish disperse wide distances to mate.

Questions 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 (2 marks each, 10 marks total)

Consider the five sentences below (one for each question). Each one features one abbreviation or acronym-based error.

Copy and paste each sentence and then bold the error in each one (1 mark). Then copy and paste the sentence again but re-write it appropriately (bolding your edits, 1 mark). Hint: Use the basic rules above to help you.

Question 15: Mr. Thompson says killer whales (Orcinus orca) are his favourite animals, but his conservation-conscious daughter, Miss. Thompson, prefers gray whales (Eschrictius robustus).

Question 16: According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one distinct population of gray whales is critically endangered. E. robustus individuals in this population only number around 100 at present.

Question 17: Eschrictius robustus individuals are most likely to be seen along the west coast of USA and CAN as they migrate south between October and December.

Question 18: Although many taxonomists believe that these whales are the only surviving members of their evolutionary family, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) studies suggest humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are more closely related to them than they are to minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), which are currently classified in the same family.

Question 19: The International Whaling Commission (the IWC) recently estimated there to be 1 million minke whales in different populations around the world; however, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) believe some populations are at risk.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1, Version 2 and Version 3 Solutions

Numbers, Units, Mechanics: Student In-Class Activities

In the pre-class activities, you worked through questions to improve your stylistic use of numbers (and abbreviations/acronyms) when writing. In this in-class activity, you will broaden those skills by working on mechanics-based problems, before teaming up with a partner to tackle larger bodies of writing. You can think of writing mechanics as being an extension of the transitional techniques you learned earlier in the term; mechanics are the small parts of your writing that stick everything together to ensure that everything makes sense and that emphasis is placed where you want it to be.

For example, basic punctuation such as the use of a period (.), a comma (,), a semicolon (;), a colon (:), or the capitalization of certain words can give your sentences the meaning they should have when used properly. However, when used incorrectly, they can transform the meaning of the most basic sentence and leave your readers completely baffled as to what you are trying to tell them.

Consider the two versions of a short sentence that is interpreted completely differently due to the presence of a single comma.

1: I am very hungry so we should cook Mom.

2: I am very hungry so we should cook, Mom.

The table below (Table 1) contains some basic mechanics rules that you should apply when writing. This is not extensive, but will help you answer some of the upcoming questions in the in-class activities.

Table 1: Basic mechanics rules to improve your writing, with do (good) and do not (bad) examples.

Mechanics-based component Do Do Not
Comma (,)
  • Use to split up sentences
  • Use where there is a pause
  • Overuse (can make your writing more confusing)
Colon (:)
  • Use before listing items
  • Confuse colons and semicolons
Semicolon (;)
  • Use to join sentences with directly related information
Capitals
  • Proper nouns (Rogers Arena)
  • Names and titles (Dr. Jones)
  • Abbreviations (NASA)
  • Seasons (winter)
  • Compass points unless part of a name (the north of England, but Northwest Territory)
Plurals
  • Use when talking about more than one (rabbits)
  • Unit symbols (kg not kgs)
Apostrophe (')
  • Use when something belongs (Mike's test tube)
  • Confuse with plurals (test tubes, not test tube's)
Hyphen (-)
  • Use to link compound words (25-mile race)

Activity 1 (work alone or together, 10 minutes)

Try to highlight the 12 mechanics-related mistakes in the paragraph of text that appears below, before providing appropriate alternatives.

Writing effective, interesting science, stories is very important if we are to increase the basic scientific knowledge of the General public; doctor Richards believes that the overuse of jargon in science articles is one of the greatest crimes he sees from instructor’s at the university of British Columbia (ubc). He also believes that non-science students are put off by the following things. Wordy sentences, experiments that use techniques they do not understand, data analyses that are hard-to-relate to, and boringly unimaginative titles. These students, when polled by ubc Researchers also said they were unlikely to talk to science minded students for fear of not understanding the topics they would talk about.

Activity 2 (work alone or together, 10 minutes)

In this activity, there are four multiple-choice questions relating to the mechanics of writing. Select the sentence written in the correct style for each question and justify your answer by explaining why the other options are stylistically incorrect. [Hint: There are numbers and units-based errors as well as mechanics-based issues].

1: You are talking about a study you would like to implement to assess student attitudes to science communication.
A: I will first survey 300 science enrolled students about their attitudes.
B: I will first survey three hundred science enrolled students about their attitudes.
C: I will first survey three-hundred science enrolled students about their attitudes.
D: I will first survey 300 science-enrolled students about their attitudes.

2: You are elaborating on your survey methods.
A: I will survey a mixture of 18 and 19-year-old’s.
B: I will survey a mixture of 18 and 19-year-olds.
C: I will survey a mixture of eighteen and nineteen year-old’s.
D: I will survey a mixture of eighteen-nineteen year-olds.

3: You are now explaining how the students will be selected for the survey.
A: I will randomly choose from all 4000 science-registered students at ubc.
B: I will randomly choose from all 4,000 science-registered students at UBC.
C: I will randomly choose from all 4,000 science registered students at UBC.
D: I will randomly choose from all four thousand science-registered students at UBC.

4: You are writing lists of the materials you will need.
A: I will need the following: 300 UBC-approved copies of the survey
B: I will need the following: 300 ubc-approved copies of the survey
C: I will need the following; 300 UBC approved copies of the survey
D: I will need the following – 300 ubc approved copies of the survey

* Please note there will be a brief class discussion about your answers and the reasons behind them for Activities 1 and 2. *

Activity 3: Writing a story (work together, 10 minutes)

Working with a partner, or in a team of three to ensure nobody is alone, take a few minutes to write a short creative story (no more than 100 – 150 words) that comprises the elements that appear in Table 2 below. Do not worry too much about making the story realistic or interesting, but make sure it is accurate in terms of style. You are going to need to incorporate rules that apply to using numbers and abbreviations, as well as general mechanics rules, to write a technically correct piece.

Try to write your story as quickly as possible (less than 10 minutes). Once you have done this, exchange it with your partner and have them read through what you have done and provide any comments regarding the style (and any errors they have spotted).

Table 2: Use this table as a guide for all the components that you must include in your short story. Designate yourself as either Partner ‘A’ or ‘B’ and read the variations for each component to make sure you write a piece that incorporates the elements specific to you. If you are in a group of three, have two Partner As or Bs.

Component Partner 'A' Partner 'B'
Hyphen (-) Use at least once to formulate a compound word
Abbreviation/acronym Correctly use 'National Aeronautics and Space Administration' (NASA) throughout your work Correctly use 'British Columbia Conservation Foundation' (BCCF) throughout your work
Numbers Use at least three numbers in numeric or written form
Units Use metres and kilograms Use mililitres and feet
Capitals Try to capitalize at least two different words
Apostrophe Use at least once
Semicolon Use at least once to join related sentences together

Activity 4 (work alone, optional take home)

Take a few moments to go over the comments you received from your partner and see whether you made any technical mistakes. Once you have reviewed them, take a further few minutes to try to improve the quality of your story. This will get you in the habit of editing a first draft of your work to improve the quality of your writing.

This final exercise is not designed to take too long. Its purpose is simply to point out how important it is to refine both the content and style/mechanics of your writing. You produced a piece of writing in Activity 3 by focusing on the technical aspects and mechanics, rather than on actual content or fluid transitions. However, you will usually find it more effective to focus on drafting your content, spending less time worrying about style and the technical aspects of your writing. But this must be cleaned up later, and the more you write, the more you will avoid making stylistic or mechanics-based errors in your first draft.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: In-class activities solutions

Number, Units, and Mechanics: Student Post-Class Activities

Following the pre and in-class activities that focused on the correct use of numbers, units, abbreviations and mechanics in writing, you should be feeling more confident about getting your style right with regard to these important components.

As ever, your primary goal when communicating science to any audience should be to tell an interesting story in a way that is easily understandable. These post-class activities have been designed to give you specific practice in capitalizing words correctly, working more with units, and using commas and hyphens appropriately.

Capitalization

It can be especially hard to learn when you should (and should not) capitalize certain words in your writing. The following list includes a few of the most important, common rules that you should always try to apply:

1: Capitalize the first word of a new sentence, or quote, but not if it follows a semicolon or colon. Do not capitalize the first word in the second part of an open/divided quote (e.g. Learning cellular processes is difficult; there are so many names and theories involved).
2: Capitalize people’s names, but titles only when they come before those names (e.g. Professor Michelle Richards or Michelle Richards is a professor).
3: Capitalize points of the compass only when referring to specific geographic places (e.g. Northwest Territory, and northern Canada).
4: Capitalize proper nouns and place names, but not seasons (e.g. Vancouver General Hospital is situated just off Broadway in Vancouver).
5: Capitalize the titles of publications, in print, online, and in video (e.g. New Scientist).
6: Capitalize the names of specific academic courses but do not capitalize non-specific topics or subjects (I really enjoy history).

Question 1 (5 marks)

There is one capitalization-based error in each of the five sentences below. Try to find the error in each sentence before re-writing it correctly. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the five changes you have made (1 mark for each correct change).

A) Conducting phone surveys during the Summer months, such as July and August, is not ideal as many Canadians go on vacations during this time.
B) Occasionally, solar flares occur that are large enough for the northern lights, or aurora borealis, to be seen further South than usual in locations such as Vancouver and Toronto.
C) A recent paper in nature describes how researchers modified a standard technique in order to capture better images of protein structures.
D) Most UBC science students must take 100-level biology courses, such as biology 112 and 121.
E) A current UBC Professor is a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee and will oversee Canadian athletes in Sochi as the Chief Medical Officer.

Using Plurals and Punctuation

Another difficult combination of mechanics rules to learn incorporates the mixing of rules dictating capitalization, pluralization, and the basic punctuation around numbers and units that you commonly use in scientific communication. For example:

1: You should include a space between a number and unit (20 m), but not if the unit is a degree (180°) or a percentage (55%).
2: You should not pluralize units (20 kg, not 20 kgs) unless you also write out the number (eight kilograms).
3: You should not capitalize unit names (centimetres, not Centimetres) unless you are talking about Celsius or Fahrenheit (because these two are named after scientists).

As ever, remember that consistency is everything; this is why it is acceptable to use numbers when using units, but why you should instead write them when writing out the units in full (5 m or five metres).

Question 2 (5 marks)

There are five numbers and/or mechanics-related errors in the following paragraph. Try to find the errors and re-write them correctly. Do this by copying and pasting the paragraph before bolding the changes that you have made (1 mark for each correct change).

Last summer, I took measurements of two lime trees. One was treated with fertilizer and one was not. At the end of the summer, the fertilized lime tree was 13.6 % taller than the unfertilized tree at three ft tall. Limes from the fertilized tree weighed 45 g, on average, which is almost twice as much as the unfertilized limes. Once picked, the fruit was stored at room temperature, about 21.3 ˚ Celsius. Fertilized limes held about 37 mls of juice while unfertilized limes contained only 20 milliliters.

Using Commas

Commas are used to split up sentences and make a reader pause when you want them to. As such, they put emphasis on your writing where you want it to be. If you don’t use commas often enough, this emphasis will be lost and your writing will be less easy to interpret. However, overusing commas has the same result. In all cases, read your sentences thoroughly and ask yourself whether you want your reader to pause where the commas are. If not, you might not need them.

Question 3 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below, which comprises five sentences. Your task is to decide whether each of these sentences requires a comma or not. Copy and paste the paragraph and add in commas where you think they belong (1 mark for each sentence). Hint: Not all sentences require a comma, and no sentences require more than one. You will gain 1 mark for each sentence in which you place a comma correctly, and 1 mark for omitting a comma from a sentence that does not require one.

Some people may think that synthetic pesticides are the main pesticides found in food. Naturally occurring pesticides are also present in the foods we eat however. For example a wide variety of common fruits and vegetables produce natural pesticides to protect themselves against different fungi and insects. Natural pesticide concentrations may increase when plants are stressed or in danger. Concentrations of natural pesticides occurring in fruits and vegetables are generally low enough to be safe for human consumption yet these concentrations can be up to 10,000 times higher than those of their synthetic counterparts.

Using Hyphens

Hyphens are used to make compound words, and can be harder to master than commas. The simple rule you should follow, when deciding whether or not to hyphenate one or more words, is to read the whole sentence in which these words are present and ask yourself whether the message is the same with or without the hyphens. If it is, then you don’t need them.

For example, ‘I was deeply concerned about my lack of revision ahead of the midterm,’ would be interpreted the same as ‘I was deeply-concerned about my lack of revision ahead of the midterm,’ which means the first version is correct (you should not use a hyphen here). However, ‘I volunteered with four year olds,’ or ‘I volunteered with four year-olds,’ is not the same as ‘I volunteered with four-year-olds.’ Depending on how old the children were, you should either use the second or third versions here (the first one is always wrong, because the children are either one or four years old).

For more help with hyphenation, please view the following short Grammar Squirrel video [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K__1C4Hq3aU here]

Question 4 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below. Your task is to place five hyphens throughout the paragraph where they are needed (1 mark for each correctly placed hyphen). Hint: There are five hyphens (in total) that should be added; you might need to link two or more words together with the hyphens. If you place more than five hyphens, you will be penalized!

Recently, 10 year old Nathan Gray of Nova Scotia discovered a supernova (a massive explosion that occurs during the final evolution of a star) in the very distant galaxy called PGC 61330. Likely the youngest person to discover a supernova, Gray was examining photos taken by Halifax based astronomer David Lane, of St. Mary’s University, when he made the discovery. His discovery comes at the end of a six month long endeavour to try to beat his sister’s record as she also discovered a supernova when she was 10. Luckily for Gray, his adventurous attitude and determination allowed him to beat his sister, but only by a mere 33 days.

Question 5 (5 marks): Putting it all together

To answer the following question (scenario), write just one sentence that incorporates all the information included in Table 1 (below). Remember to follow all style-based rules and try to write the sentences in an engaging, simple way.

Table 1: Write one sentence that incorporates all the elements in the Q5 scenario. Hint: every element has been written in words in the table, but you might need to change the styles appropriately in your sentences/stories. Don’t worry too much about the content of your sentence; you can make it up as long as your sentence reads well and shows your command of Unit 3 skills.

Question (Scenario) Organization Focus of sentence Measurement (size and units) Mechanics to include
Q5 British Antarctic Survey (1 mark) Hint: this is a research centre A reported concern that the rapid thinning of Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica is irreversible (1 mark) Sea level could rise by up to ten millimetres over the next twenty years (1 mark) At least one hyphen and one comma (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Numbers, Units and Mechanics: Student Post-Class Activities

Following the pre and in-class activities that focused on the correct use of numbers, units, abbreviations and mechanics in writing, you should be feeling more confident about getting your style right with regard to these important components.

As ever, your primary goal when communicating science to any audience should be to tell an interesting story in a way that is easily understandable. These post-class activities have been designed to give you specific practice in capitalizing words correctly, and in working more with units and grammatical mechanics.

Using Capitals Effectively

It can be hard to learn when you should (and should not) capitalize certain words in your writing. The following list includes a few of the most important, common rules that you should always try to apply:

1: Capitalize the first word of a new sentence, or quote, but not if it follows a semicolon or colon. Do not capitalize the first word in the second part of an open/divided quote (e.g. Learning cellular processes is difficult; there are so many names and theories involved).
2: Capitalize people’s names, but titles only when they come before those names (e.g. Michelle Richards is a professor).
3: Capitalize points of the compass only when referring to specific geographic places (e.g. Northwest Territory, and northern Canada).
4: Capitalize proper nouns and place names, but not seasons (e.g. Vancouver General Hospital is situated just off Broadway in Vancouver).
5: Capitalize the titles of publications, in print, online, and in video (e.g. New Scientist).
6: Capitalize the names of specific academic courses but do not capitalize non-specific topics or subjects (e.g. I really enjoy history).

Question 1 (5 marks)

There is one capitalization-based error in each of the five sentences below. Try to find the error in each sentence before re-writing it correctly. Copy and paste the sentences and bold the five changes you have made (1 mark for each correct change).

A. The Street next to Rogers Arena is called Abbott Street.
B. The current President of UBC’s Undergraduate Chemistry Society is President Michael Acceptor.
C. Another UBC society had a movie night last November but did not show March of the Penguins, which shows how the penguins’ march to sea gets easier by march each spring.
D. Chemistry and Biology would be useful subjects to know in some detail if you were a palaeontologist looking for fossils in Africa.
E. In the famous movie, Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm hilariously pointed out the difference between this theme park and others. “If the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down,” he said, “The pirates don’t eat the tourists.”

Using Plurals with Capitals and Units

Another difficult combination of mechanics rules to learn incorporates the mixing of rules dictating capitalization, pluralization, and the basic punctuation around numbers and units that you commonly use in scientific communication. For example:

1: You should include a space between a number and unit (20 m), but not if the unit is a degree (180) or a percentage (55%).
2: You should not pluralize units (20 kg, not 20 kgs) unless you also write out the number (eight kilograms).
3: You should not capitalize unit names (centimetres, not Centimetres) unless you are talking about Celsius or Fahrenheit (because these two are named after scientists).

As ever, remember that consistency is everything; this is why it is acceptable to use numbers when using units, but why you should instead write them when writing out the units in full (5 m or five metres).

Question 2 (5 marks)

There are five numbers and/or mechanics-related errors in the following paragraph. Try to find the errors and re-write them correctly. Do this by copying and pasting the paragraph before bolding the changes that you have made (1 mark for each correct change).

When completing our lab safety induction, my partner and I had to make various measurements of our equipment. Our lab bench stands at a height of 94cm, and it is approximately six m long. Our lamp weighs just over 3 kgs, and is so strong that the heat from it increased room temperature by 2.1 %, to 16.8˚ celsius, after just 30 min.

Using Commas Effectively

As you improve as a science communicator, you are certain to develop greater skills in using grammatical mechanics correctly in your writing. You probably already use commas very frequently, but it can still be hard to always use them appropriately. If you fail to use a comma when there should be a natural pause in a sentence, like here, your readers will be confused; however, if you overuse commas, your readers will be equally baffled as to what you are trying to tell them.

Question 3 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below, which comprises five sentences. Your task is to decide whether each of these sentences requires a comma or not. Copy and paste the paragraph and add in commas where you think they belong (1 mark for each sentence). Hint: Not all sentences require a comma, and no sentences require more than one. You will gain 1 mark for each sentence in which you place a comma correctly, and 1 mark for omitting a comma from a sentence that does not require one.

Ideally doctors should speak slowly and calmly to patients when they first wake up following surgery. At least until good news can be delivered that is. In these instances it would be acceptable to use some humour. Connecting to patients in a personal way is a very important goal for any doctor. Despite this maintaining a professional stance is always crucial.

Using Hyphens Correctly

Remember the video that you watched about hyphenation on the ‘UBC Science Writing’ YouTube channel (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRV8Y13xSgI). As the video showed, you should only use hyphens between the words that are meant to act as single adjectives in a sentence, which is why it matters whether you write “I saw a man-eating rabbit” or “I saw a man eating rabbit.”

Question 4 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below. Your task is to place five hyphens throughout the paragraph where they are needed (1 mark for each correctly placed hyphen). Hint: There are five hyphens (in total) that should be added; you could need to link two or more words together with each one.

A six week summer chemistry program designed to teach high performing youngsters to think more critically about science has been successful in developing their attitudes. Using a recently developed questionnaire, students were classified on a scale ranging from naïve to expert based on the way they answered different prompts. Before the program began, the majority of these students, who were all eight year olds, provided naïve answers; however, after completing the program, they provided expert like answers much more frequently.

Question 5 (5 marks): Putting It All Together

To answer the following question (scenario), write just one sentence that incorporates all the information included in Table 1 (below). Remember to follow all style-based rules and try to write the sentences in an engaging, simple way.

Table 1: You must write one sentence that incorporates all the elements in the Q5 scenario. Hint: every element has been written in words in the table, but you might need to change the styles appropriately in your sentences/stories. Don’t worry too much about the content of your sentence; you can make it up as long as your sentence reads well and shows your command of mechanics skills.

Question(Scenario) Organization or company Focus of sentence Measurement (size and units) Mechanics to include
Q5 The American Chemical Society

(1 mark)

There is a concern that there will be a lack of helium soon in the US (1 mark) US supplies could be reduced by fifty per cent by 2014 (1 mark) Hyphen,

comma (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

Numbers, Units and Mechanics: Student Post-Class Activities

Following the pre and in-class activities that focused on the correct use of numbers, units, abbreviations and mechanics in writing, you should be feeling more confident about getting your style right with regard to these important components.

As ever, your primary goal when communicating science to any audience should be to tell an interesting story in a way that is easily understandable. These post-class activities have been designed to give you specific practice in capitalizing words correctly, and in working more with units. Other activities deal with editing text to make it more engaging while following the rules you have learned already.

Using Capitalization Appropriately

It can be especially hard to learn when you should (and should not) capitalize certain words in your writing. The following list includes a few of the most important, common rules that you should always try to apply:

1: Capitalize the first word of a new sentence, or quote, but not if it follows a semicolon or colon. Do not capitalize the first word in the second part of an open/divided quote (e.g. Learning cellular processes is difficult; there are so many names and theories involved).
2: Capitalize people’s names, but titles only when they come before those names.
3: Capitalize points of the compass only when referring to specific geographic places (e.g. Northwest Territory, and northern Canada).
4: Capitalize proper nouns and place names, but not seasons (e.g. Vancouver General Hospital is situated just off Broadway in Vancouver).
5: Capitalize the titles of publications, in print, online, and in video (e.g. New Scientist).
6: Capitalize the names of specific academic courses but do not capitalize non-specific topics or subjects.

Questions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 (1 mark each, 8 marks total)

There is one capitalization-based error in each of the following questions. Try to find the error and re-write the sentence correctly. Copy and paste the sentence and bold the change you have made (1 mark for each question).

Q1: The Street next to the Nitobe Memorial Garden is called Lower Mall.
Q2: The current President of UBC’s Biological Society is President Ivy Wang.
Q3: Richard and Lily are members, along with Sophie, Lily’s Sister.
Q4: The society had a movie night in November but did not show March of the Penguins, which shows how the penguins’ march to sea gets easier by march each spring.
Q5: Despite being bordered by the icy Southern Ocean, rivers do exist in Antarctica. The most northerly is called the Rezovski creek.
Q6: Science and Geography would be useful subjects to know in some detail if you were a research scientist working in the intense cold of Antarctica.
Q7: Some believe evolution can be used as an argument against the existence of God. Atheists do not believe in God, but polytheists believe in more than one God.
Q8: Agnostics believe that it is impossible to know whether God exists, but this does not make them atheists. “The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble to us,” said Mr. Charles Darwin, “And I for one must be content to remain an agnostic.”

Using Plurals and Punctuation

Another difficult combination of mechanics rules to learn incorporates the mixing of rules dictating capitalization, pluralization, and the basic punctuation around numbers and units that you commonly use in scientific communication. For example:

1: You should include a space between a number and unit (20 m), but not if the unit is a degree (180°) or a percentage (55%). 2: You should not pluralize units (20 kg, not 20 kgs) unless you also write out the number (eight kilograms). 3: You should not capitalize unit names (centimetres, not Centimetres) unless you are talking about Celsius or Fahrenheit (because these two are named after scientists).

As ever, remember that consistency is everything; this is why it is acceptable to use numbers when using units, but why you should instead write them when writing out the units in full (5 m or five metres).

Questions 9, 10, 11 and 12 (3 marks each, 12 marks total)

There are three numbers and/or mechanics-related errors in the following four sentences (questions). Try to find the three errors and re-write the sentences correctly. Do this by copying and pasting the sentences before bolding the changes that you have made (3 marks for each question).

Q9: My girlfriend is 174cm tall but I am taller by nine cm at 183cm.
Q10: When we first bought our dog, he weighed six kilograms and was approximately three ft long. Now he weighs 25 kgs, and is approximately four ft long.
Q11: 88percent of people polled in a recent survey admitted that they did not know what a temperature of 80° F would approximate to on the celsius scale.
Q12: My goldfish is 112 mms long, which makes him 27 mms (or 19.4 %) shorter than my friend’s goldfish.

Question 13 (10 marks)

In the paragraph below there are 10 major stylistic errors. These include mistakes relating to the use of numbers, abbreviations, units, and basic punctuation and writing mechanics. Copy and paste the text and bold your re-written versions of the errors that were originally present (1 mark for each correctly re-written part).

“The Pearson published Biological Science continues to be a very popular textbook at many Universities in North America (USA and CAN). When first printed in the late 00’s, the diagram focused book did not feature as many research issues as relevant to Canadian Students as the current edition, published in 2011. Although it is not cheap to buy at approximately 160 dollars, there are over 1500 pages full of useful information. Different courses require different textbooks, but much of the material in one book will also be present in another; for example, if you were to take introductory biology: Biology 100 at UW (the University of Washington), this book would probably be fine.”

Questions 14 and 15 (5 marks each, 10 marks total)

To answer the following two questions (scenarios), try to write just one sentence that incorporates all the information included in each scenario of Table 1 (below). Remember to follow all style-based rules and try to write the sentences in an engaging, simple way.

Table 1: You must write two sentences (one for each scenario/question) to tell a story incorporating all the elements in each specific scenario. Hint: every element has been written in words in the table, but you might need to change the styles appropriately in your sentences/stories.

Question Organization or company Focus of sentence Measurement (size and units) Mechanics to include
Q14 National Aeronautics and Space Administration

(1 mark)

‘Project Constellation’ was originally designed to send humans to the Moon (1 mark) The Altair landing unit was thirty two feet tall (1 mark) Apostrophe, semicolon (1 mark each, 2 marks total)
Q15 University of British Columbia(1 mark) The ‘Start An Evolution’ campaign re-unites alumni with university programs (1 mark) One and a half billion dollars must be raised by alumni (1 mark) Plural, semicolon (1 mark each, 2 marks total)

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Version 1, Version 2 and Version 3 Solutions

Numbers, Units and Mechanics In-Class PowerPoint

Timing Guide

Pre-Class Activities: Version 1  |  Version 2  |  Version 3

In-Class Activities

Post-Class Activities: Version 1  |  Version 2  |  Version 3


The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Pre-class activity, Post-class activity, and In-class activity solutions