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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.
Example 1
High density samples were collected from…
High-density samples were collected from…
The phrase “high-density” is a compound adjective modifying the noun “samples.”
Example 2
The high-density of the samples was evaluated…
The high density of the samples was evaluated…
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.

Example 3
The patient was a 42 year old man who presented with…
The patient was a 42-year-old man who presented with…
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.
Example 4
The rats used were eight-weeks-old and were fed…
The rats used were eight weeks old and were fed…
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:

The concrete blocks were six-inches-long.
The concrete blocks were six inches long.
Samples were weighed on an eight inch wide scale…
Samples were weighed on an eight-inch-wide scale…
Seedlings were planted in 12 cm deep pots…
Seedlings were planted in 12-cm-deep pots…
This website provides some other examples of when hyphens should and should not be used: https://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/hyphens.asp

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.