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Editing Tip: Writing in the Geosciences


  • Like many fields, the geosciences have specific terms and conventions that are important to know when writing and submitting a paper for publication in a geoscience journal
  • Pay attention to journal conventions for abbreviations, date and time format, and other terminology

A few field-specific tips for writing in the geosciences:

Word choice

Correct diction throughout your paper is important for conveying your ideas and intended meaning. Although a single word may have several synonyms, a field-specific term usually requires specific wording. Some common word choice conventions are shown below.

  • In the context of land use, “construction land” should instead be referred to as “built-up land,” “developed land,” or “urban land.”
  • When referring to trends, “increase” is preferable over “increment.” Furthermore, “increasing trend” suggests that the trend itself is being amplified; this can be better stated as an “increase,” “upward trend,” or “positive trend.”
  • Altitude vs. elevation: In the geosciences, “altitude” typically refers to the barometrically derived height of an object or point in relation to sea level or ground level (e.g., the height of aircraft), whereas “elevation” is more commonly used to describe the height of a land surface above sea level.

Acronyms and abbreviations

As in other fields, acronyms should be defined the first time they are used in the abstract and again in the main body of the text. Make sure that any abbreviations, including units, are consistent throughout your manuscript.

  • Articles: When an acronym is commonly used in the literature, it is sometimes treated as a proper noun. In these special cases, articles should precede the written-out term but not the acronym. Here are some examples: “data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration” and “data from NASA;” “during the El Nino Southern Oscillation” and “during ENSO;” and “using a geographic information system” and “using GIS.” However, when these acronyms are used as adjectives, articles are needed: “data from a NASA satellite,” “during an ENSO event,” and “using a GIS database.”
  • Capitalization: For acronym definitions containing general words only, the terms do not need to be capitalized: for example, “the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI)” and “sea surface temperature (SST).” A mixed-case definition that corresponds to an acronym’s letters is often unnecessary, as in “RAdio Detection And Ranging (RADAR).” Here, “radio detection and ranging (RADAR)” may be preferred by your journal.

Dates and times

Journals usually request a specific style for dates and times. Ensure that the style remains consistent throughout your manuscript, including in the abstract, main text, and figure/table captions. You should also add units to times, as shown in the examples below:

  • Coordinated Universal Time (e.g., 1200 UTC)
  • Zulu time (e.g., 1200 Z)
  • Military time (e.g., 08:00 hours)
  • Local standard time (e.g., 8 AM LST or 8:00 AM LST)

Instrument vs. dataset vs. satellite

Often, datasets referenced in papers have the same name as the instrument or satellite used to collect the data. In these cases, you may want to consider adding information to the name to specify to what you are referring. Here are a few examples:

  • “the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument” or “The Moderate Resolution Infrared Spectroradiometer (MODIS) dataset”
  • “the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite” or “the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) dataset”

Searching the literature is a good way to determine other common conventions. See this editing tip for details on searching Google Scholar for field-specific terms.

We hope that this editing tip is useful when writing geoscience papers. Please email us at [email protected] with any questions on this topic. AJE wishes you the best!

Tags Writing a manuscript Editing tips Geosciences Word choice Abbreviation Capitalization

About the Author: Theresa Andersen

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