The London Institute takes writing seriously. Over time, we have built up a collection of writing rules that our team has found useful. Originally created for our website and research papers, this style guide is for anyone who is interested in good writing and typesetting.


In general, arrange items in a list according to their number of syllables, building from the shortest item to the longest: for example, chalk, blackboards and a place to think.

In general keep paragraphs short. The point of paragraphs is to break down prose into logical modules, each of which has a job to do. Don’t try to do multiple jobs with the same paragraph.

Avoid parentheses if possible. Academics are particularly prone to an overuse of parentheses. As a rule of thumb, try to limit yourself to at most one instance of parentheses per page. Sometimes—when the enclosed text is parenthetical—parentheses can be replaced by dashes.

Use the active voice wherever possible. Academics tend to use the passive voice in the belief that it conveys impartiality, but the effect is just to make the sentence dull. As the physicist Lord Robert May put it, “These days, use of the passive voice in a research paper is, more often than not, the hallmark of second-rate work.”


The UK agency is Ministry of Defence but the US agency is Department of Defense.

Do split infinitives. If it’s okay for the Starship Enterprise to boldly go, it’s okay for us.

It’s London Institute for Mathematical Sciences, not London Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

Our Arnold and Landau posts are for Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, in that order, which is also the reverse order of the number of applicants.

Write London Institute for Mathematical Sciences in the first instance, then tend to use London Institute or Institute after that. Exceptions are when the identity is implicit, in which case a shortened form is fine. In writing we use LIMS only occasionally.

When writing about a person, use the full name in the first instance, then the surname after that. For example, it’s: Prof. John Smith, then Prof. Smith; Dr John Smith, then Dr Smith; and Mr John Smith, then Mr Smith. But note the exception: Sir John Smith, then Sir John.


It’s Erdős, Gödel and Schrödinger.

A website is a collection of individual web pages.

Spell out integers from zero to nine, but write 10 and above using digits.

When presenting a list, use first, second, and so on, not firstly, secondly.

Avoid the language of the bureaucrat: deliverables, facilities, learnings and remit.

Use et cetera rarely. Just because you name just some elements of a set doesn’t mean you deny the existence of the others.

Favour short words over long words. So try over attempt, get over obtain, tell over notify, rich over wealthy, help over assist, and show over demonstrate.

It’s at the start of a sentence and otherwise. This is contrary to our normal convention—which would be everywhere Bit.Bio—but the company made a special request.

Being a British organisation, we use British spelling rather than American spelling. So analogue, analyse, colour, defence, organisation and traveller instead of analog, analyze, color, defense, organization and traveler. An exception is for the titles of papers published in American journals.


Use single quote marks. For quotes within quotes, use double quote marks.

The multiplication sign is different from the letter x, as in 2 ⨉ 2 matrix.

In numbers at least 1,000, separate sequences of three digits with a comma.

Don’t use the serial comma unless it adds clarity to a list of complex objects.

Semicolons are rarely needed. One example of when they are is to differentiate complex items in a list.

When there are multiple conventions for common abbreviations, favour concision. Thus use US over U.S. and 6 pm over 6 p.m.

Displayed equations are punctuated just as you would if they were written out in words. There is no space separating the equation and the punctuation mark.

Use one space between sentences. Two spaces is a throwback to the days of monospaced typewriters. It disrupts the appearance of the text on the page, creating white holes in the text block.

When forming abbreviations, use a full stop if the last letter of the abbreviation differs from the last letter of the word, but do not use one otherwise. Thus it’s Prof. Smith but Dr Smith.


Parentheses are always upright (even when surrounding italics).

On our website, running text is set in a seriffed font but titles and labels are set in sans serif.

Do not indent the first paragraph in a body of text, or the first paragraph after a section heading.

Italicise the titles of stand-alone works: books, journals, magazines, newspapers and movies. When listed in a bibliography, however, sometimes journal names are not italicised, depending on the house style of the publication.

Use italics for emphasis rarely. Instead, use the richness of the English language and the structure of your sentence to make your point. The academic custom of italicising the first instance of technical terms is unnecessary.

There are four kinds of dashes. An em dash marks a pause or change in sense—notice how it is unspaced. An en dash indicates a range, as in pp 1–5. A hyphen is a word-breaking device. A minus sign is used for mathematics, as in 1 − 5 = −4.

The English language is loath to capitalise. Thus, for example, it is nature, postdoc and quantum mechanics. Some exceptions are Gaussian, Boolean function and Euclidean geometry, the reason being that these are adjectival forms of the proper names Gauss, Boole and Euclid.