Fig./Figs. [wide-ranging summary/long]

Subject: Fig./Figs. [wide-ranging summary/long]
From: Brad DeMond <bdemond -at- SUMS -dot- SHIGA-MED -dot- AC -dot- JP>
Date: Tue, 5 Dec 1995 09:57:18 +0900

This summary is slow in coming, but I think is still valuable to those who
are interested.

A while ago I posted the following question:

>I'm working with a medical text that refers to several figures at one time.
>Question: is it better to use the singular or plural form in such a case, i.e.
>(see Fig. 1-4) or (see Figs. 1-4), or is either style okay as long as the
>usage is consistent?

I received about 16 responses. The first of these were short, simple and
straightforward, for example:

> Figs. 1-4" is better.


> I would go with "Figs." to avoid possible confusion with hyphenated figure
>numbers (Figure 1-1, Figure 1-2, etc.).

However, the responses became progressively longer, suggesting more
elaborate formatting:

> Why abbreviate at all? I would spell it out: see Figures 1 through 4.

The fullest response was from somone who took the time and trouble to check
technical style guides and provided this information from them:

"If there are many illustrations they should be numbered, and text
references to them should be by the numbers: "figure 1 shows ...,", "see
figure 2," "(fig. 3)." . . . The word "figure" is spelled out unless the
reference is a simple parenthetical one."

"The words figure, table, chapter, and their plurals should not be
capitalized in running text. It is correct to capitalize those words if
they appear as the first word in the caption under the particular figure or
table, or if the word "chapter" is used at the beginning of a chapter
(i.e., Chapter 1. Introduction). See figure 2-1; refer to table 3; this is
covered in more detail in chapter 4--all these usages should be lowercase."

"They are only labels, not titles. The only reason they are capitalized in
captions is because they are the first word. "

[the following sources provided by person who wrote the three paragraphs
"Technical Editing" by Judith A. Tarutz
"The New York Public Library Writers Guide to Style and Usage"
"The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual" (Those are the only
references I have on hand at the moment.)

If I had followed the later answers and the style guides, it would have
meant changing "see fig.[or figs.] 1-4" [short] to "see figures 1 through
4" [long], which I thought would not be apt. So I went to the library at my
university and looked at a few periodicals to see how they handled this
kind of thing. Because I teach at a medical university, the periodicals are
limited to the medical fields, but for this question such material is
appropriate since the article I was working on was for submission to a
medical review. (Some may ask why I didn't start with those periodicals in
the first place. The answer is that it was quicker for me to post a
question to this board and get different opinions, all of which I

I checked the following journals: "Archives of Orthopaedic and Trauma
Surgery," "Gut," "Nature," and "Science."

**The in-house style of each of these periodicals directly violated the
rules set down by the style manuals.** "Nature," which is a renowned
scientific journal, used this formatting in its articles [note: these are
parenthetic references within running text]:

"(Fig. 3i)"

"(Figs 1, 2)" note-> no period after the 's'

and "(see asterisks in Fig. 3)"

Based on the differing opinions offered on this board, and the actual style
used in publications, which violates the relevant rules laid down in tech
style guides, I draw the following conclusions:

* Writing guides and style books are starting points (and returning
points), but they are not the final word.

* In-house editorial styles/formats/rules take priority over those in
style guides.

* We should not underestimate the value of our own experience, education,
intelligence and training. After all, each of us has flexibility and
judgement, and it is the wise use of these, not simple implementation of
writing rules, which characterizes and endows our work, hopefully with
quality, clarity, and uniqueness.

A final observation:
I am not involved in project teams, at least not in the sense of doing
cooperative, team writing. It was interesting for me to note that the more
thought that appeared to go into answering the question I posted, the
lengthier the response and suggested changes. This would seem to indicate a
potential pitfall of project writing, i.e. the temptation of "overworking"
the text, but I am basing this statement on this case only.

Thanks very much to everyone who responded to my initial question. All of
your suggestions were helpful.


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