The ACS Style Guide: A Manual for Authors and Editors, 2d ed.
The ACS style guide has grown from 264 pages in the first edition to 460 in the second. The audience - authors and editors - has not changed.
Chapter 1, on writing a scientific paper, immediately addresses authors with 13 pages of selected points of style and usage (presumably because few scientist-authors are likely to venture far into a stylebook). Most of the advice is useful - for example, a concise discussion of appropriate verb tenses in scientific prose - and the examples throughout the book are virtually all chemistry-related. An overview of a scientific paper's components and general descriptions of scientific prose forms complete the chapter.
Chapter 2 covers poster presentations and provides short, simple guidelines for letters to the editor and press releases. Considerations in designing a poster are outlined, followed by a "simple recipe for a barebones, no-frills, simple, attractive, effective, easy-to-put-together, easy-to-transport, and easy-to-hang genetic poster" (p. 30). I wish that they had added that all those beyond graduate school should head for the nearest graphic artist.
In the first edition, the major chapter (104 pages) was entitled "Grammar, style, and usage" and included all the chemistry and math as well; now the same material is split among six chapters (3 to 8) totaling about 230 pages. Chapter 3 (treating grammar, punctuation, and spelling) and Chapter 4 (on editorial style) seem aimed at editors, given some of the distinctions required. Few authors I know could make use of the advice to capitalize "as" in titles and heads when it's a subordinating conjunction but not when it's a preposition. A boxed feature of "[Points] to watch" appears to be the main outreach toward scientist-authors in these chapters.
Chapter 3 treats selected points of grammar and punctuation with advice that is generally sound and logical; the latter includes recommending the British style of quotation mark placement, according to the logic of the quoted material. An occasional point is confusing: for example, commas are always used before "Jr." and "Sr." in personal names, but the roman "II" and "III" are punctuated according to the person's preference. That's fine if I work with the person concerned; but if I see the name of an individual I don't know in a manuscript, how do I punctuate it?
Chapter 4 focuses on hyphenation and capitalization; it also includes a brief but welcome discussion of foreign surnames and their proper usage and an extensive list of scientific abbreviations, acronyms, and symbols. Periods are used in only some abbreviations: a.m., ca., i.d., i.e., and U.S. take them, but eq, mp (melting point), p, vol, vs, and abbreviations of months do not. In a mixed style like this, it seems mandatory to state the principle on which the style is based, but I couldn't find such a statement.
On a larger scope, I've always thought it unnecessary to revisit common points of English in a technical style guide. I'd gladly trade those grammar pages for more examples and wider coverage of the peculiarities of technical prose, idiom, nomenclature, and symbols, which cannot be found in handbooks or the Chicago manual of style.
The next four chapters (140 pages) contain valuable information and are the heart of this book. Chapter 5 covers numbers, mathematics, and units of measure with numerous examples; however, the discussion of SI units is limited. Chapter 6 treats references, describing three styles of text callouts, because these forms are all used by various ACS publications. Citation forms are given for electronic sources such as CD-ROMs, computer programs, and Internet addresses. Chapter 7 deals with chemical nomenclature, including updated versions of the tables showing how to typeset chemical names (the most dog-eared pages in my copy of the first edition). It surprises me that this chapter is only 18 pages long. Chapter 8 covers chemistry conventions, including notation for electron shells, chemical formulas, radicals, bonds, and crystallography, among others.
Chapter 9 provides guidelines on type size in figures and illustrates the effects of size reduction on poorly designed figures. Informal and formal tables are treated in a brief section of less than four pages. Informal tables have no title, number, or footnotes and must fit within the text column; in size (3-5 lines, 4 columns or less), they overlap with formal tables (at least 3 columns and 3 rows). Several informal tables are used in this book; some look fine, others are disconcerting. I'm not sure of the value of this distinction.
Chapter 10, on peer review (new to this edition) contains 39 replies from scientists and editors to questions about how they review a manuscript and what they find useful in reviews of their own papers. These replies provide commonplace and idiosyncratic advice. Although each has value, the advice becomes repetitious after a dozen of these mini-essays. Four to six of these pieces, plus a concise discussion of peer review, would seem more useful to the scientist-author.
Chapter 11 contains a general discussion of copyright, followed by an ACS-specific discussion of the Society's copyright policy and procedures. Chapter 12 provides basic advice for effective oral presentations; the advice is generally sound, and the discussion is interesting and holds your attention. The guidelines on producing visual aids that are actually visible to an audience could be profitably used by those in any field.
This book is strongest in the technical and chemistry-related chapters. However, I found several points of language advice questionable. For example, if "impact" is defined (following Merriam-Webster) as "a significant effect," what does "The acid did not have a great impact on the reaction rate" really mean? (p. 7) In terms of style, I thought it odd (and at one point, confusing) that each chapter restarts the numbering of formal tables, with the result that there are at least three tables in this book called "Table 1."
One particular point of typesetting that caught my attention is to close chemical formulas around a center dot, despite IUPAC examples that are spaced, because the spaces could "wreak havoc with many typesetting systems" (p. 255). Question: Aren't software programmers supposed to help us solve our problems, not make us change preferred notation because it's easier for them to duck a tough problem in developing typesetting programs? This made me wonder how many other style points - and not just those in this style guide - are compromised for similar reasons.
Chemists should find The ACS style guide of value even if they don't get past Chapter 1 and its short section on grammar and usage. The chemistry focus of the sample sentences should make them comfortable, and most points are made clearly enough that even authors "allergic" to English should have no trouble. Editors will find useful items throughout, but the treatment of grammar and style is not extensive enough to make this book your primary reference for those areas, even if most of your manuscripts go to ACS publications. Most valuable will be Chapters 5 through 8, especially the chemistry content. Those dealing with chemistry-related manuscripts will want this book close by.
David E. Nadziejka
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|Author:||Nadziejka, David E.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1998|
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