6.3.3 Punctuation after Abbreviations

When an abbreviated form using a final full stop appears at the end of a sentence, no additional stop is necessary since the single stop also closes the sentence, so ‘School starts at 8 a.m.’ is correct, not ‘School starts at 8 a.m..’; if the abbreviation appears within parentheses, however, a final full stop should also follow the closing parenthesis, as it does at the end of this sentence (School starts at 8 a.m.). If a question or exclamation mark closes the sentence, it should appear immediately after the abbreviation’s final stop: ‘Does school start at 8 a.m.?’ If the sentence continues after an abbreviation using stops, any necessary punctuation (comma, semicolon, colon or dash) should appear immediately after the final stop of the abbreviation: ‘School starts at 8 a.m., but she arrived at 8.30.’ Some abbreviations such as ‘e.g.’ meaning ‘for example,’ ‘i.e.’ meaning ‘that is’ and ‘viz.’ meaning ‘namely’ are followed by a comma in most instances due to their meanings and functions (i.e., a comma follows the full stop), but this is not always the case: some styles will discourage the use of the comma in order to avoid double punctuation (a full stop and a comma side by side).

6.3.4 Using ‘a’ or ‘an’ before Abbreviations

The pronunciation of an abbreviation when read aloud determines whether ‘a’ or ‘an’ is used before the abbreviation when an indefinite article is needed. Therefore, ‘a’ should be used before abbreviations beginning with a consonant sound, including a vowel pronounced as a ‘w’ or ‘y’: ‘a D.Phil. thesis’ and ‘a UNESCO member state.’ When an abbreviation begins with a vowel sound, however, ‘an’ should be used: ‘an MLA style of referencing’ and ‘an IQ test.’ Acronyms (read as words) tend not to use articles at all except when they are used adjectivally – ‘the patient was diagnosed with AIDS,’ but ‘an AIDS patient’ – whereas initialisms (sounded as individual letters) tend to use an article (definite or indefinite): ‘a Ph.D.,’ ‘an NGO’ and ‘the UK.’

6.3.5 Spacing Associated with Abbreviations

In most cases, spaces do not appear within abbreviations whether full stops are included or not, as the above examples demonstrate. There are exceptions, however: ‘ad lib,’ ‘et al.’ and ‘per cent’ all feature a space (though the last is a single word in American English – ‘percent’), but since the first element of these forms is not really an abbreviation, the space is logical; ‘fl. oz.,’ ‘op. cit.’ and ‘loc. cit.’ are less logical because both elements are abbreviated, but a space appears nonetheless. Between the initials of personal names, spaces are often used (M. K. R. Taylor), but not in all referencing systems, and some styles will want the spaces eliminated in running text as well to avoid the separation of the initials at line breaks (M.K.R. Taylor). When numerals are used along with standard abbreviations for weights and measures, a space usually appears between the numeral and the abbreviation (‘38 kg,’ ‘50 m,’ ‘17 cm’ etc.), but in computing the space is often omitted (‘512kB,’ ‘66MB,’ ‘5GB’ etc.). Different spacing can sometimes convey different meanings: when the degree symbol is used for temperature, for instance, a space usually appears between the numeral and the degree symbol, which is close up against the scale abbreviation (‘20 °C’ and ‘75 °F’), but when expressing degrees of inclination or angle or degrees of latitude and longitude, the degree symbol normally appears close up to the numeral (‘an angle of 360°’ and ‘55° N 21° W’). The symbol for percentage also appears up against the numeral (28%), although a space appears between the numeral and the longer abbreviation for percentage (28 per cent), and other abbreviations and symbols are similarly used with numerals but without spaces: ‘$69.99,’ for instance, ‘§4.6.1’ for ‘Section 4.6.1’ and ‘55ff.,’ which is generally used of page numbers, though spaces should appear around ‘ff.’ if it is used in conjunction with other lowercase letters (fol.67r ff.).

6.3.6 Plurals and Possessives of Abbreviations

There are some plural terms that are abbreviated in a way that does not show the plural nature of the full version (the initialism ‘UN’ for ‘United Nations,’ for example), but, generally speaking, if both the singular and plural forms of a term or name are abbreviated, a separate plural form must be established. To form the plural of most abbreviations, an ‘s’ is added to the end – ‘NGOs’ and ‘DVDs’ – and if the abbreviation contains more than one full stop, the ‘s’ should be added after the last stop (the English Department produced seven Ph.D.s last year). Aspects of the sentence relating to the abbreviation (such as verbs) should reflect the plural nature of the abbreviation just as they would reflect the plural nature of the full term: ‘the NGOs are working to improve the situation’ and ‘the DVDs are useful for amusing the children on rainy days.’ The plurals of some abbreviations are formed unusually by doubling a letter, with ‘f.’ for ‘following’ becoming ‘ff.’ and ‘p.’ for ‘page’ becoming ‘pp.’ An apostrophe should not be added along with the ‘s’ to form a plural, though in plural forms of a single letter an apostrophe is sometimes used for clarity (‘dot the i’s and cross the t’s’ instead of ‘mind your Ps and Qs in the examination,’ in which the apostrophes are not necessary). Usually an apostrophe and ‘s’ are reserved for possessive forms, however: ‘the NGO’s efforts were appreciated’ and in the plural, ‘the NGOs’ efforts were appreciated.’ Standard abbreviations for weights and measures tend to take the same form in both the singular and plural (‘1 kg’ and ‘10 kg,’ not ‘10 kgs,’ and ‘1 m’ and ‘3 m,’ not ‘3 ms,’ which means ‘three milliseconds,’ not ‘3 metres’), but an ‘s’ is sometimes added to ‘yr’ (yrs) and the plural ‘hours’ can be represented by ‘h’ (especially in scientific contexts), ‘hr’ or ‘hrs.’

6.3.7 Adding Italic Font to Abbreviations

When abbreviating a full term or name set in italic font, the abbreviation should usually appear in italics as well. This applies to initialisms of the titles of books and journals – OED for the Oxford English Dictionary and PP for Pride and Prejudice – as well as abbreviated titles such as J Adv Nurs for the Journal of Advanced Nursing and shortened titles created for the purpose of referencing (MLA Style Manual for the Modern Language Association Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing). It does not apply to all abbreviations, however: ‘MS’ in roman font, for instance, stands for the Latin manuscriptum (see Section 6.3.11 below). Any shortened forms of italicised foreign terms used in a thesis should use the same italic font: ‘He possessed a certain joie de vivre; this joie allowed him to maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversities.’ Although common Latin abbreviations tend to appear in roman font (‘cf.,’ ‘e.g.,’ ‘etc.,’ ‘i.e.’, ‘viz.’ and ‘vs.’), some that are used in references can be set in either roman or italic font (‘et al.,’ ‘ibid.,’ ‘loc. cit.’ and ‘op. cit.’ can alternatively appear in italics: et al., ibid., loc. cit. and op. cit.) and others should almost always appear in italic font, such as those used in dates (c. for circa and fl. for floruit). See the list of individual Latin abbreviations in Section 6.3.11 below.

6.3.8 Abbreviations at the Beginning of a Sentence

Acronyms and initialisms consisting of uppercase letters only can be used at the beginning of a sentence, but in the running text of a thesis other kinds of abbreviations (lowercase, and lowercase and uppercase blended) should not appear at the beginning of a sentence and neither should symbols. In such cases, the word (or words) represented by the abbreviation or symbol should be written out in full, or the sentence should be adjusted to avoid placing the abbreviation at the beginning: ‘$1 was much less than I planned to spend’ could become, for instance, ‘One dollar was much less than I planned to spend.’ Abbreviated social titles are acceptable at the beginning of a sentence, however: ‘Mrs Jones sold her house’ and ‘Dr Cumberland is taking patients.’ In notes, on the other hand, abbreviations that are normally lowercase can be capitalised for use at the beginning of a sentence – ‘Ch. 7 deals with this in detail’ and ‘Nos. 8 to 13 show this trend’ – but writing these out as ‘Chapter 7’ and ‘Numbers 8 to 13’ is still a good stylistic choice unless space is limited. A few lowercase abbreviations tend to be acceptable in their usual lowercase form at the beginning of footnotes or endnotes: c., ‘e.g.,’ ‘i.e.,’ ‘l.,’ ‘ll.,’ ‘p.’ and ‘pp.’ are often treated in this way, and ‘cf.’ is occasionally as well (see Sections 6.3.10 and 6.3.11 below, and for information on footnotes and endnotes, see Section 3.4 above and Section 7.2.3 below). If there are no pressing space constraints, however, such uncapitalised forms can be avoided at the beginning of notes as well by using ‘Circa’ for ‘c.,’ for instance, ‘That is’ for ‘i.e.’ and ‘Lines’ for ‘ll.’

Why PhD Success?

To Graduate Successfully

This article is part of a book called "PhD Success" which focuses on the writing process of a phd thesis, with its aim being to provide sound practices and principles for reporting and formatting in text the methods, results and discussion of even the most innovative and unique research in ways that are clear, correct, professional and persuasive.

The assumption of the book is that the doctoral candidate reading it is both eager to write and more than capable of doing so, but nonetheless requires information and guidance on exactly what he or she should be writing and how best to approach the task. The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples.

The basic components of a doctoral thesis are outlined and described, as are the elements of complete and accurate scholarly references, and detailed descriptions of writing practices are clarified through the use of numerous examples. PhD Success provides guidance for students familiar with English and the procedures of English universities, but it also acknowledges that many theses in the English language are now written by candidates whose first language is not English, so it carefully explains the scholarly styles, conventions and standards expected of a successful doctoral thesis in the English language.

Individual chapters of this book address reflective and critical writing early in the thesis process; working successfully with thesis supervisors and benefiting from commentary and criticism; drafting and revising effective thesis chapters and developing an academic or scientific argument; writing and formatting a thesis in clear and correct scholarly English; citing, quoting and documenting sources thoroughly and accurately; and preparing for and excelling in thesis meetings and examinations. 

Completing a doctoral thesis successfully requires long and penetrating thought, intellectual rigour and creativity, original research and sound methods (whether established or innovative), precision in recording detail and a wide-ranging thoroughness, as much perseverance and mental toughness as insight and brilliance, and, no matter how many helpful writing guides are consulted, a great deal of hard work over a significant period of time. Writing a thesis can be an enjoyable as well as a challenging experience, however, and even if it is not always so, the personal and professional rewards of achieving such an enormous goal are considerable, as all doctoral candidates no doubt realise, and will last a great deal longer than any problems that may be encountered during the process.

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