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AUTHOR'S ENGLISH WRTING GUIDE
Using hyphens and dashes and tildes in scientific writing
A common difficulty when writing science in English as a second language is appropriate use of hyphens and dashes, such as when to use a hyphen to join words together. Here, we provide a quick guide on the use of hyphens and dashes in science writing. When used in the language context, hyphens combine words that work together to form a compound adjective and appear immediately before a noun.
The phrase “high-density” is a compound adjective modifying the noun “samples.”
In this case, density is a noun, not a compound adjective, and does not need to be hyphenated.
Hyphens are also required when age or another measure is used as an adjective. Some examples of this are given below.
Note that the age appears as an adjective immediately before the noun (man). If “42-year-old” is removed, the sentence would still make sense.
In this sentence, age is not being used to modify the noun. In particular, note where “8 weeks old” appears in the sentence. If “8 weeks old” is removed, the sentence would not make sense. In addition, the plural form “weeks” is used.
Here are additional examples with other units of measure:
Dashes (–) on the other hand are typically used to present ranges (although some journals do accept the use of hyphens for this), e.g., 5–9 samples or Sept. 1–Oct. 15, 2020. A tilde (~) is not typically used in English to denote ranges, but instead means “approximately” when placed immediately before a value.
“Sampling was performed, with ~6 mL of sample collected from each subject” can also be written as “Sampling was performed, with approximately 6 mL of sample collected from each subject.”
Using these simple rules can help you avoid common pitfalls surrounding the use of hyphens, dashes, and tildes in your scientific manuscript.