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October 15th, 2019

After you do something repetitive, you would often dream about it at night or see its image superimposed over whatever else you do during the day.

During school summer breaks, I would often dream of strawberries and blackberries after my mother, brother and I would spend half a day in the woods, bringing back several litres of berries each.

At exam time at college, I would be playing with my dog yet keep imagining various lines, parabolas and hyperbolas slowly swim in an imaginary mathematical space.

For the last two weeks at work, a vast majority of my time has been consumed by preparing scientific texts for publication.

Do you know what the dark side of writing for science is? It's neither the experiments, nor processing the data, nor understanding and clearly explaining the results. It's formatting.

Given the capabilities of modern technology, many publishers today require that the articles be submitted in the "ready for publication" format, forcing someone on the authors' side to learn all the tiny details of how the text should be presented. At work, that someone is me, and here are a few examples of what is considered proper:

- unit modifiers (two or three words used together as an adjective) are usually hyphenated (a five-letter word);

- yet a law that combines two and more names of scientists separates them with an en-dash and no spaces (the d'Alembert–Lagrange principle); the same goes for a range of parameters (the 60–72 F, or 15–23oC, weather is pleasant);

- as for the em-dash, one of its uses is to replace some words in the sentence, for example, for emphasis (The dark side of writing for science? Not the experiments, not processing the data, not understanding and clearly explaining the results.—Formatting);

- no space separates the percent (%) or degree (o) sign from the number (23oC; 100% humidity is hard to bear);

- you only write the units after the last number of a range (15–23oC), unless it is an angle, o, (the cone rotated 0o–180o).

This list is infinite, but the worst part of the job is not even hunting formatting errors, which are ignored and even dismissed by a lot of authors as unimportant, although they can only be compared with ugly pimples on the face of your article. No, the worst part is that different publishers often set different format requirements.

In Journal of Physics: Conference Series, for example, the reference to a (quite imaginary) article will look like this:
Smith A N, Gore L V and Mansfield T 1997 Nucl. Fusion 37 1000 (in layman terms, the Nuclear Fusion journal, volume 37, published in the year 1997, page 1000), while the same article cited in Plasma Physics Reports needs to be written as follows:
A. N. Smith, L. V. Gore, and T. Mansfield, Nucl. Fusion 37, 1000 (1997) (every comma, full stop, space and font change is important.)

Formatting is an anal, largely thankless but necessary job, which I, surprisingly, enjoy but having to finish the work on two issues of the above-mentioned journals at the same time left my brain feeling bruised and stuffed with cotton. I keep seeing the different reference lists and texts swim in my mind's eye, like I saw berries at school and algebraic curves at college.

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