Generally, apostrophes indicate either two words that have been shortened into one word (e.g. isn’t) or indicate the relationship between two words (e.g. the boy’s ball).
Words containing apostrophes are very common in casual written English, like a book or a letter to your friend, but apostrophes are not normally used in scientific writing.
Here are some tips for using apostrophes correctly in scientific writing.
Avoid using apostrophes to shorten words
Scientific writing requires a very formal style of language, so it is usually best to avoid using apostrophes to shorten words.
It is best to not use:
Instead, you should use:
Acceptable use of apostrophes to indicate ownership
Apostrophes that indicate the ownership of an object, or the relationship between two objects, such as the girl’s ball or the father’s son, also commonly occur in standard written English, but are rarely needed in scientific writing.
Some exceptions that you can use in manuscripts are:
manufacturer’s instructions (one manufacturer)
manufacturers’ instructions (two manufacturers)
the Institution’s Review Board (one institution)
the Institutions’ Review Boards (two institutions, two boards)
The hospital's strategy
Jones and Black’s research
The National Cancer Institute’s guidelines
All of these phrases are acceptable in a scientific manuscript or thesis.
Rewriting to avoid using apostrophes
While the examples above are acceptable, you should avoid using apostrophes in other sentences. In most cases, the text can be rewritten or rearranged - so you don't need an apostrophe at all.
the patients' specimens
the cell's nucleus
can also be written as
the specimens collected from patients or patient specimens
the cell nucleus
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