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A Proofreader’s Introduction to IEEE Style

The IEEE Editorial Style Manual for Authors provides advice for anyone writing for an IEEE journal or publication. However, many technical writers and educational institutions also use IEEE style, so it is worth knowing the basics if you proofread technical writing.

Here, we look at some key aspects of IEEE style that proofreaders should know.

Introducing and Using Acronyms

In most respects, IEEE style follows the conventional rules for introducing acronyms and initialisms. This means writers should introduce these abbreviations by placing them in parentheses after the full terminology the first time they appear:

This is relayed via the main distribution frame (MDF).

After this, they can use the abbreviation in isolation. However, IEEE style also has some specific rules for using acronyms that proofreaders should know:

  • Unlike some style guides, IEEE style suggests introducing and defining acronyms even if they are widely used or familiar terms.
  • If an acronym appears in the abstract for a paper as well as the main text, it should be introduced and defined in both places.
  • Acronyms do not need to be defined in the main text of a paper if they appear in a list of abbreviations before the introduction (i.e., a “Nomenclature” section).
  • Pluralize acronyms with a small “s” and no apostrophe.

Keep an eye out for these issues when proofreading technical writing.

Contractions in Technical Text

IEEE style follows the standard convention of avoiding contractions in formal or technical writing. When proofreading, then, you would correct words such as “don’t” and “can’t” to use their full forms (i.e., “do not” and “cannot” in these cases).

However, there are exceptions to this rule for technical terms. For instance, “don’t-care conditions” are a way of simplifying logic circuits. And since this is a technical term rather than a standard contraction, you would not need to correct this word.

It is easy to overlook cases like this unless you are familiar with the subject matter at hand. But the key is to look out for any unusual uses of contractions and to check before correcting them (e.g., looking for the terminology online or leaving a comment for the client).

Pluralizing Measurements and Years

As well as the guideline on pluralizing acronyms above, IEEE style offers advice on forming other plurals. Potentially tricky cases to look out for include:

  1. Units of measurement should be pluralized with an “s” where relevant (e.g., three mils, not three mil; or 20 kbits/s, not 20 kbit/s).
  2. Plurals of calendar years do not need an apostrophe (e.g., 1990s, not 1990’s). Nor do plurals of numbers (e.g., 5s and 7s, not 5’s and 7’s).
  3. Use an apostrophe plus “s” for singular plurals (e.g., The engine’s design…) or just an apostrophe if the base word ends in an “s” (e.g., Burns’ theory states…).

If your client is using IEEE style and you spot an incorrect pluralization, make a correction. If it is a repeated error, leave a comment to explain the correct style.

Hyphens and Dashes

Standard IEEE rules for use of hyphens and dashes are as follows:

  • Hyphens – Used for compound words (i.e., compound modifiers before the word being modified and other terms conventionally spelled with a hyphen). The most important thing is checking that hyphens are used consistently.
  • En dashes – Used to indicate a range of values (e.g., 30–45 mm) except when the range is preceded by “from” (e.g., From 30 to 45 mm, not From 30–45 mm). Can also be used to indicate a connection between two terms (e.g., voltage–current curve) or in chemical abbreviations (e.g., Ni–Al–Si).
  • Em dashes – Used to set aside parenthetical information in a sentence.

Make sure that your client’s writing follows these guidelines consistently.

Trademark Symbols

IEEE style recommends against using the ™ (trademark) and ® (registered trademark) symbols. If required, though, authors can add a footnote saying “Trademarked” or “Registered trademark” the first time they use a trademarked name in their work.

Becoming a Proofreader

To learn more about proofreading, including the standard conventions of technical and academic writing, try the Becoming A Proofreader course for free today.

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