Fig. vs Figs.?

Subject: Fig. vs Figs.?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l List <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Adam Turner <adam -dot- turner -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2007 08:20:42 -0500

Adam Turner wondered: <<Is the word figure singular or plural in-text
when describing alphabetically labeled divisions of a single numbered
figure? EXAMPLES *Fig. 12 (a), (b), and (c) shows* OR Figs. 12 *(a),
(b), and (c) show *>>

Most style guides I've seen (specifically, the author guidelines
published online by science journals) do not allow the abbreviation
of "Figure" outside of brackets*, and few seem to use the brackets
for the sub-figures. So I'd right this (and write this <grin>) as
"Figure 12 shows". Note that there's only one figure, not three.

* Nor do they permit the use of most abbreviations that require
punctuation outside of brackets. This is for a very good reason: the
period introduces needless punctuation and thus, creates needless
complexity, in the sentence. Occasionally, it even makes the sentence
significantly more difficult to parse.

If you need the three letters (i.e., they are only three of many more
sub-figures), try: "Figure 12 (a, b, and c) shows". Better still,
don't cite more than one sub-figure when the meaning is only present
in one. For example: "Figure 12a shows X, [Figure] 12b shows Y, and
[Figure] 12c shows Z." Whether to repeat the word "Figure" is a style
decision, but my take on this is that the further apart each number,
the more useful the repetition becomes.

Also note (as it's not a trivial point) that using the full word only
adds two characters to the total length once you delete the period,
so it's not like the abbreviation offers any advantage over the
unabbreviated form. Engineers and scientists love their abbreviations
far too well, and we sometimes fall into the trap of adopting their
bad habits.

-- Geoff Hart
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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Fig. vs Figs.: From: Adam Turner

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