Quiz Bowl: Mathematical Composition

Have you ever seen that T-shirt? The one that reads, “I’m an English major; you do the math.” I have to confess that was my philosophy when I was first hired as a copy editor. Even today, if I didn’t have a calculator, a copy of Mathematics Into Type, and a bottle of ibuprofen, I wouldn’t even attempt to edit equations. So, to ease the furrowed brows of all you English-major copy editors who are forced to face the math, this month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz is on mathematical composition. But let’s ease into this. Try to example below first and then attempt the full quiz at http://www.amamanualofstyle.com.

Which of the following equations correctly uses brackets, parentheses, and braces?

{4 + (−1[2 −1])}2
[4 + {−1(2 −1)}]2
(4 + [−1{2 −1}])2
{4 + [−1(2 −1)]}2

And the answer is (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

{4 + [−1(2 −1)]}2

Parentheses should be used to set off simple expressions. If additional fences are needed for clarity, parenthetical expressions should be set off in brackets, and bracketed expressions should be set off with braces. Note that parentheses are thus always the innermost fences. All fences should be present in matched pairs.

Well, did you survive? If so, you can now turn in those English major T-shirts for ones that read, “I’m a copy editor; I’ll do the math.”—Laura King, MA, ELS

Questions From Users of the Manual

Q: Are arabic numerals used for measures of time:  years, months, weeks?

A: I’m assuming you are asking about using numerals vs words.  The short answer is yes; we use arabic numerals for years, months, and weeks.  But if you should also be curious about the use of  arabic vs roman numerals, see section 19.7.5; and for specific nomenclature conventions, see chapter 15.

Q: Do you have a style for citing tweets?

A: Our blog addressed this query on August 23, 2011.  Please take a look at this archived entry.

Q: How do you handle the word continued when it’s used after a title of a table that runs over onto a second page?

A: We don’t address this specifically in the manual, but if you look at one of the longest tables in the manual (the big SI conversion table in chapter 18) you will see that we used “(cont).”  Since then, however, in our own publications, we have switched to spelling the word out (“continued”) to better serve international readers (who may not recognize cont as a “familiar” abbreviation).

Q: If there is a “compound” acronym/abbreviation defined first in a manuscript (eg, chronic myeloid leukemia in chronic phase [CML-CP]) and, later in the same manuscript, just CML is required, should CML be redefined or did the first definition cover it?

A: Good question.  AMA Manual of Style authors agree that there is no need to expand a component of an already introduced compound abbreviation.  For instance, after introducing ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), there is no need to expand MI.  In your example, there is no need to treat CML as a new abbreviation.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

Questions From Users of the Manual

Q: I thought AMA supported putting no space following a symbol such as > (eg, age <18) if, in the expression, the symbol is acting more as a modifier, not as an operator (eg, 3 < 4), in which case the symbol would have a space (AMA specifies a thin space).  If I’m mistaken, I need to make a mental adjustment.

A:  This is addressed in section 21.10.  We recommend thin spaces with such symbols as greater than, less than, equals, etc.  So, a small mental adjustment might be needed as we make no distinction between the 2 uses you describe.

Q: Is it true that AMA style no longer requires an expansion of CI (confidence interval) at first mention?

A: Yes, it’s true.  As of July 27, 2011, as announced on Twitter, we are no longer requiring that CI be expanded at first mention.  This is posted on the style manual Web site in “Updates to the Manual” and soon will have a special icon within the text to indicate that this material has been updated.

Q: Does AMA have a preferred format for telephone numbers?  How about international numbers?

A:   The manual does not address this question specifically (and perhaps it should).  However, if you look in section 25.11, you will see many examples (both from the United States and elsewhere) for presentation of telephone numbers.—Cheryl Iverson, MA