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Would you use hyphens or slashes in constructions that imply a combination? Examples:

  • A yard group / yard steering conflict (meaning a conflict between a yard group and yard steering)
  • A building week / structure week / platform combination
  • The Program A / Program B communication (where "Program A" and "Program B" are names of software programs)
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Is there some reason why normal words won’t work, possibly with some commas? Those all look ugly. –  tchrist Mar 6 '13 at 16:19
    
Why don’t you please provide what you think that dashed versions would be? It is hard to tell. –  tchrist Mar 6 '13 at 18:14
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3 Answers

For clarity, avoid these constructions where possible. For example:

  • A conflict between the yard group and the yard steering committee.
  • A combination of building weeks, structure weeks, and platforms.
  • The communication between Program A and Program B.

If space or business constraints force the use of such a construction, use the punctuation that is least ambiguous to your audience.

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Where the slash is used as a substitute for and or or, I prefer spelling out the words, or rewording suitably; and for lengthy combinations, use a list with commas or semicolons. I might write the examples as

• A yard group vs yard steering conflict
• A building week, structure week, and platform combination
• The Program A to B communication

I prefer reserving the slash for combinations where it is customary; for example, owner/operator. Less-customary examples appear in wikipedia's slash-punctuation article, which says

The slash is also used to avoid taking a position in a naming controversy, allowing the juxtaposition of both names without stating a preference. An example is the designation “Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac” in the official U.S. census ... Additionally the use of the slash is to replace the hyphen or en dash to make a clear, strong joint between words or phrases, such as “the Hemingway/Faulkner generation”.

An mtdesk.com webpage with advice for medical transcriptionists about use of slash suggests

The forward slash (also known as virgule) is used to represent per, and or or and to divide material. ... When 2 terms of equal weight are used in an expression and and is implied between them to express this equivalence, the forward slash can be retained. [eg] “The diagnosis/treatment plan was discussed.” ... When the word or is implied, do not use the forward slash. [eg] “Each patient in the study was provided a copy of his or her results.” NOT “Each patient in the study was provided a copy of his/her results.” ... Where duality arises regarding personal pronouns and gender, the preference is to recast the sentence to be gender neutral. If recasting the sentence isn't an option, use or, not the forward slash.

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Generally, if there are multiple words involved, as in this case, it can be better to use a slash. If the items are single words, you can often get away with a hyphen instead.

For example:

  • Parent-teacher conference
  • Host parent/host teacher conference

Of course, it is better to avoid slashes if possible, as they can be less precise and create reader confusion. So, in the examples above, would be better to use:

  • Communication between Program A and Program B
  • Conflict between a yard group and yard steering

Another option to consider is to expand it in the first instance, and then use some other designation afterward. For example:

  • Communication between Program A and Program B (hereafter referred to as "A-B communication")

This makes it easier for the reader to understand exactly what those hyphens or slashes really mean.

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