I hope this is the correct StackExchange to ask a question like this.

For a scientific text (in computer science), which is the correct way of expressing angles (e.g. the yaw, pitch and roll angle of an airplane or any 3D model) - Should I use the word "degree" or the symbol "°" (^\circ in latex)?

Also, would I use "degree" or "degrees" (plural)?

Example sentences would be:

  • The yaw angle ranges from -60 degree to +60 degree.
  • We show experimental results for the images with 10 and 20 degree pitch angle.
  • X works well for angles smaller than 10 degrees roll angle.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Kit Z. Fox May 9 '14 at 13:08

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Belongs on Writers or Academia. – Martin F May 6 '14 at 17:09

I would suggest using the word instead of the symbol in written text (and reserve the symbol for drawings and such). I guess it is a matter of style, but the use of the symbol in text tends to confuse me with degrees as mentioned in temperature.

As for using degree or degrees, do not use the plural whenever specifying more than 1!

When you specific more than 1 degree on its own, yes, you would write 20 degrees.

But since you are also talking about angles, a 20 degree angle is correct.

So in your example sentences (taking into account msam's comment about the nist recommendation):

The yaw angle ranges from -60 degrees to +60 degrees.
We show experimental results for the images with 10 degree and 20 degree pitch angle.
X works well for roll angles smaller than 10 degrees.

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    nist recommends always stating the unit after the value ie: "The yaw angle ranges from -60 degrees to +60 degrees" (or -60° to +60°) – msam May 6 '14 at 12:55
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    But that same NIST guide states Unit symbols (or names) are not modified by the addition of subscripts or other information which I interpret to mean that degrees is frowned upon – High Performance Mark May 6 '14 at 16:33
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    @High Performance Mark: The standard abbreviation for degree is ° or deg — I don't think you'd expect to see it spelled out in a scientific publication, but if was it would be pluralized. The NIST guide gives 2°3'4" as an example. – Peter Shor May 6 '14 at 16:39
  • @tchrist, sorry, I used my typewriter for that word. – High Performance Mark May 9 '14 at 6:51

I hardly ever appreciate answers of the type 'Do it this way'. Says me.

SPORTSCIENCE may not be a widely recognised authority, but certainly cites one:

Use the following Systeme Internationale (SI) abbreviations for units of measurement (Young, 1987) [APA uses some of these abbreviations.]

meter m

millisecond ms

gram g

second s

kilogram kg

minute min

mole mol

hour h

liter L (not l)

day d

milliliter ml

week wk

degree °C

And another article, at Wikipedia has:

Units officially accepted for use with the SI: degree ° plane angle (dimensionless unit) 1° = (π / 180) rad

  • and here's the direct reference from bipm – msam May 6 '14 at 12:49
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    "Do it this way" has advantages for technical writing that needs to be clear and unambiguous for foreign readers and might need to be read in 100years time – mgb May 6 '14 at 15:03
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    @mgb But the content of answers here (which is what I was referring to) should be guided by the suggestions in the help centre: Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful, but do try to mention any limitations, assumptions or simplifications in your answer [bolding mine]. "Use 'degrees' " in answer to this question is a poor and opinionated answer, not required even by the pretty dictatorial people at BIPM. If you want me to spell it out, don't present answers which are inadequate but which sound like they're papal edicts. And give authoritative references . – Edwin Ashworth May 6 '14 at 20:13

This is a matter that should be addressed by the house style of the publisher.

For instance, some publishers will insist upon the abbreviation deg., others upon the symbol °, and others that you spell out degree — and then some publisher may insist that you convert all angles to radians.

If you don’t have a publisher yet, personally, I’d recommend spelling out degree unless you are using it many, many times in each chapter.

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    To clarify further - if you're self-publishing, pick a style manual and try to follow it. I prefer the Chicago Manual of Style, but there are many others that are widely respected - APA, MLA, Associated Press, etc. – outis nihil May 6 '14 at 14:43
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  • Highlighting a style violation in a posting about style manuals? You must have chuckled evilly while making that edit. Noted. I was trying to follow the StackExchange style, not realizing the ELU had separate style considerations. Plus one in thanks. – outis nihil May 9 '14 at 15:39

Use ° anywhere you would otherwise consider using a symbol or abbreviation.

Use degree or degrees anywhere you would generally spell out other units.

If in doubt, use ° when using digits and the word when using words, hence 180° and a hundred and eighty degrees.

If any use of an abbreviation looks ambiguous, then avoid it, though this is unlikely with ° since the only other use is with temperatures* which aren't likely to be confused, and there aren't really any similar symbols in English. (In languages which use º for ordinals there's more of a risk, since that symbol looks similar or even identical in some fonts).

Repetition reduces the risk of ambiguity, so if you have a large number of uses, you can be more confident in using °, and also gain more too (in reducing the number of times you would repeat the word degrees).

If the text is scientific or technical, you can be more confident again in such a use.

I would probably use ° in all of your examples.

*Specifically °C and °F, though it could be worth avoiding near K as some people miswrite K as °K.

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