Units, Symbols and Abbreviations

(London: Royal Society of Medicine, 6th ed. 2008): 56pp (pbk), £12.99, ISBN 978 1 85315 624 3.

Reviewed by Michèle Clarke

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I was slightly surprised to read the imprint page of this booklet as I've been waiting for ages for the new edition. I see that it says fifth edition (1994) in the list of printings (doesn't one normally add the latest edition to these lists?), but I presume it really is the sixth as the printing date is 2008 and the preface says:

The marks are given two or three pages each with cartoons to illustrate, thus making the text appear easy to understand while giving solid information about all the marks. An example or two are also given to illustrate each point (sorry for pun) made.

Common problems

The most common problems are discussed, such as its v it's, and also how usage is changing – Bohm mentions that apostrophes are appearing and are acceptable in plurals such as 1970's (which I still hate) and are disappearing from company names such as Barclays Bank. There are also some lovely additions to the usual run of punctuation marks, such as the pilcrow and the guillemet. Sadly, no index is included, but in such a small volume, this really isn't a problem.

As new recommendations continue to be made on the International System of Units (SI) and the terminology and practice used in medical and biological science by national and international organizations, so new symbols, abbreviations and conventions come into use … The general layout of the last edition has been retained, but the great change … has been the introduction of electronic media … [M]any of the sources for conventions … are now on websites.

The complimentary slip that accompanied the booklet also states that it is the sixth edition.

So we have four revised chapters:

  • Units
  • Symbols and nomenclature
  • Layout of references
  • Proof correction marks.

I've always found this booklet most useful. Everything I've had problems with has always been sorted out within its covers, and it's a great quotable source with awkward authors. The first edition came out in 1971. Fourteen years between the present edition and the previous one is way too long, so I do hope this booklet will be kept on the 'live' list of the RSM for future editions.

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