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Is it a good practice to use the abbreviation resp. for respectively in scientific writing ? Let consider the following sentence as example. "The word size (resp., word length) is defined as the number of different values (resp., significant digits) that one word can store (resp., align)."

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    To the overarching question, yes, using resp. is fine and not unusual in scientific writing. In re: the specific example, no, that's overusing it. Find some other way to express that set of alternatives; having that many parens interrupts the prose and the reader's flow.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 26, 2016 at 13:10
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    I have never ever seen the abbreviation "resp." in writing which I believe to be from a native English speaker. I think it is a habit which speakers of certain foreign languages introduce into their English writing.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 26, 2016 at 14:15
  • I know this sounds like I'm being obtuse, but try coming up with a way that you can say it without thinking you have to explain what you just meant. I agree with the answer and comments below; too many parenthetical remarks interrupts the flow of the reader, and if you meant to say those things in the first place, why not just say them? But saying "The word length is defined as the number of significant digits that one word can align" doesn't make any more sense to me offhand than the first way. Is this about programming, or database management?
    – Tim Ward
    Jan 26, 2016 at 18:10
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    @TimWard It is about Computer Science. Jan 26, 2016 at 18:53
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    The flow is indeed broken by the parentheses if we read sequentially, but not if we read in parallel: on the contrary. Jan 26, 2016 at 19:05

2 Answers 2

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It's not about the abbreviation. Your use of the word respectively is wrong.

'Respectively' is used to say that items in a list correspond with each other in order. For example:

Alice and Bob live in apartments 1 and 2, respectively.

This means Alice lives in apartment 1 and Bob lives in apartment 2. Without the word 'respectively' we know only that both Alice and Bob live in either apartment 1 or apartment 2.

A useful word that people sometimes mean when using 'respectively' is 'specifically'. It means we qualify a general term with a specific one. For example:

If you sort a list of countries by size (specifically land area) Russia is at the top.

The vague word 'size' is explained to mean the more specific term 'land area', rather than other possibilities such as land and sea area, or population.

However none of the examples you quote are really appropriate for either 'respectively' or 'specifically'

  1. 'word length' is not a more specific term for 'word size', it's just another name for the same thing.
  2. The 'number of different values' is not the same as the 'number of significant digits. The 'number of different values' of a byte is 256, whereas the number of significant digits is 8 (binary) or 3 (decimal). The word length of a byte is of course 8.
  3. The word 'align' does not appear to have any relationship to the word 'store'.

I suggest:

The word size (also called word length) is defined as the number of significant digits (in the appropriate base) that a word can store.

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    The writer should just use the specific terms instead of using general terms and the specifying."The word length is defined as the number of different significant digits that one word can align." This still doesn't make sense, because significant digits don't have to be different, and I can't see what you mean by "align."
    – jejorda2
    Jan 26, 2016 at 17:45
  • TAoCP 1 (third edn), p 652 : "Word size, for MIX: The number of different values that might be stored in five bytes." TAoCP 2 (third edn), p 746: "Word length: Logarithm of word size." Distinct is more appropriate than different here, I am agree. Jan 26, 2016 at 18:44
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    The context is scientific writing, more precisely mathematics writing. In Mathematics, the word respectively is often use in this way. Jan 26, 2016 at 19:02
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The examples and the abbreviation appear to reflect the way the conjunction "respektiv(e)" is used, and abbreviated, in German. So no, it is not good practice to use it in English, as it may mystify non-German-speaking readers. As noted above, this is not at all how "respectively" is used in English.

The correct use is modelled in the "Alice and Bob" example above. German "respektive" means "or" or (not resp.!) "or else/rather". It's a mistake German L1 users of English often, and understandably, make. (This observation is based on 35 years of teaching academic English in Germany and on the Cambridge defintions of respektive and respectively.

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