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This page contains editorial tips that have been featured on the home page.

comprise, compose, consist, constitute:  Comprise means 'consist of, contain', whereas compose means 'constitute, make up'. One way to remember the difference is that the whole comprises or consists of its parts, but the parts compose, constitute or make up the whole. It is therefore correct to write "the rock comprises mainly quartz, feldspar and biotite" or "chalcopyrite and pentlandite constitute the majority of the ore minerals in the deposit", but grammatically incorrect to write "the rock is comprised mainly of quartz, feldspar and biotite."

enquire, inquire: Although some people use these two words interchangeably, ‘enquire’ is best used to mean ‘ask or seek information’ in general contexts, whereas ‘inquire’ is best reserved to mean ‘make a formal investigation’. Therefore, ‘enquiry’ is the act of seeking information, whereas ‘inquiry’ is a formal investigation.

copyright: It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of obtaining permission from the holder of copyright before using illustrations or even lengthy quotations. “Giving credit to the copyright owner or the author does not constitute license to reproduce material without written permission.” (The Art and Science of Writing Geoscience Reports, Brian Grant, 1999). Although it is legal to reword information without having to seek copyright permission (but ethical to credit the source), it is neither ethical or legal to make a few minor changes to an illustration in order to avoid obtaining permission.

It is generally considered the author’s responsibility to obtain copyright permission because they know long before their manuscript is submitted for review and editing that they intend to use something for which copyright permission is required. The permission request should be sent off as soon as the decision is made to include the illustration or quotation. When permission is granted, credit can be given either in the caption of the illustration or in the ‘Acknowledgments’.

the comma in series lists: The comma should be omitted when a conjunction (‘and’, ‘or’) is used between the last two elements of a simple series list. In the following examples, adding a comma before the conjunction clutters up the sentence and can sometimes cause confusion:

The sulphide minerals, mainly pyrrhotite, pentlandite, pyrite and chalcopyrite, are easily distinguished in hand specimens under low-power magnification.

A number of distinctive outwash terraces, composed of silt, sand and gravel, were mapped within the upper Frenchman River valley.

There are, however, instances where a comma is necessary to avoid confusion. Without the comma before one of the conjunctions, each of the following sentences would be difficult to follow:

The Sickle Group comprises a diverse stratigraphy of quartzofeldspathic sandstone, pebbly sandstone, hornblende-bearing sandstone and pelite, and heterolithic conglomerate.

The Snow Lake primitive arc, which is composed of low-Ti refractory basalt lavas (Welch formation), boninite lavas, and isotopically juvenile felsic flows and tonalite plutons, has been interpreted by Bailes and Galley (1999) to be the result of high-temperature hydrous melting of refractory mantle sources in an extensional and/or proto-arc environment.

These impacts would result from changes in factors such as temperature extremes, air quality, water- and vector-borne diseases, and severe weather and climate events.

abbreviations: The more complex any science becomes, the more abbreviations, acronyms, initialisms and symbols we see in the literature. An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase. A period is generally (but not always) placed at the end of the shortened form. An acronym is a pronounceable word formed from the first letters of a series of words (e.g., NAFTA, SHRIMP). An initialism is also formed from the first letters of a series of words but is generally not pronounceable (e.g., GSC, USGS). Periods and spaces are omitted between the letters of acronyms and initialisms. A symbol is a non-alphanumeric character used to represent a word (e.g., $, @, %, ™, γ). These are often collectively referred to as 'abbreviations'.

There is nothing wrong with using abbreviations if they are written out the first time they appear in a report (with the abbreviation afterward in parentheses) and occasionally thereafter if it is a long report (except for those associated with units of measure). In fact, it would become rather tiresome if one had to write out ‘inductively coupled plasma  optical emission spectroscopy’ every time it was used in a report on geochemistry.

Every organization should collect and maintain a comprehensive list of abbreviations that are approved for use in its publications. This is the only way authors and their editors will know which of several commonly seen abbreviations (aver., ave. or av.) to use for ‘average’.

rock names (used in the plural): It is becoming increasingly common to see rock names and related adjectives used in the plural (e.g., carbonates, clastics, sands, shales, granites, metavolcanics, etc.). Although the reason for this practice is to save space, it is grammatically incorrect.

One instance where such usage can actually cause confusion is where ‘sediments’ is used as a substitute for ‘sedimentary rocks’, because the term ‘sediments’ is defined in the AGI Glossary of Geology as unconsolidated deposits of various kinds. The following example serves to illustrate the point:

Confusing: Pleistocene and Recent sediments usually form a thin veneer over these older sediments. All of the above geological terranes contributed to the sediments sampled in the streams and flowing down the slopes of the Porcupine Hills and Duck Mountain.

Clearer: Pleistocene and Recent sediments usually form a thin veneer over these older sedimentary rocks. All of the above geological terranes contributed to the sediments sampled in the streams and flowing down the slopes of the Porcupine Hills and Duck Mountain.

Most geoscience publications therefore prefer that authors instead use 'rocks', 'deposits' or 'sediments', as appropriate (e.g., carbonate sediments, clastic sediments, sand or sand deposits, shale, granite or granitic rocks, metavolcanic rocks). If you were using ‘shales’ to indicate several units, then it is less confusing to write ‘shale units’.

The definition of ‘lithology’ in the AGI Glossary of Geology is “(a) The description of rocks, esp. in hand specimen and outcrop, on the basis of such characteristics as color, mineralogic composition, and grain size.… (b) The physical character of a rock.” The use of ‘lithologies’ as a synonym for ‘rock types’ is therefore incorrect.

restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses: A common problem is the misuse of ‘that’ and ‘which’ to introduce modifying clauses. The following succinct explanation is reproduced verbatim from the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board Style Guide:

A restrictive clause is an adjectival clause or phrase that follows a noun and restricts or limits the meaning of the noun in a way that is essential to the meaning of the sentence. It usually begins with that (or who in references to persons) and is not set off by commas, as in the following example:

The report that the committee submitted was well documented.

A nonrestrictive clause is an adjectival clause or phrase that is purely descriptive and could be dropped without changing the meaning of the sentence. It usually begins with which (or who in reference to persons) and must be set off by commas, as in the following example:

The report, which was well documented, was discussed with emotion.

Traditionally, that introduces a restrictive clause, whereas which introduces a nonrestrictive clause, as in the following examples:

The list of illustrations in the table of contents should contain only a summary of the illustration captions, which would include names, place names or other specific important information about the illustration that would allow easy identification.

The new 35,000 square foot photochemical processing and fertilizer manufacturing plant in Stead, Nevada, which is now in the start-up mode, has a pilot plant area that has been designated for process development work related to leaching silver and gold from mine materials and staff chemists.


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Last modified: January 11, 2007