Over the last few years I have translated into English a fair amount of scientific papers for a Mexican scientist. Throughout this time, I noticed that by far the most common style requirement was asking the paper to be written in either American or British English. I have no problem with American since in Mexico we usually learn the American dialect, but writing a paper in British is a whole different story.

Throughout this time, I've looked up online as many guides on how to migrate a document from American to British English, but the most I've been able to find was this short guide on American vs. British spelling as well as a few vocabulary guides (e.g. "French fries", "truck" and "drugstore" vs. "chips", "lorry" and "chemist"). Entering queries on Google like "how to translate from American to British English" yields almost no meaningful results.

If anyone has some pointers on how to translate a scientific paper from American to British English, I would be extremely thankful.

  • 1
    Welcome to EL&U. As a reminder, Stack Exchange questions should be posed to seek a single authoritative answer; requests for open-ended lists of suggestions, tips, recommendations, pointers, and so on are very ill-suited to the format. Translation is probably not the term you want, and may explain your difficulty finding resources. Just search on differences between British and American English and you will find scads of articles, websites, papers, and other guides.
    – choster
    Dec 13, 2018 at 18:50
  • I've already googled them before, but the sheer bulk of these differences make it way too cumbersome to migrate a document from American to British using one of these guides. This is a problem, because scientific papers are subject to deadlines, so a simple and concise guide is necessary. Preferrably, a guide saying "change -or to -our except for these words, change these American words to these British words".
    – RAKK
    Dec 13, 2018 at 19:40
  • The goal is to have paper reviewers read the document and declare it conforms to their style specifications.
    – RAKK
    Dec 13, 2018 at 19:40
  • Things are just not that simple. Not every program becomes a programme. Some fillet is fillet but some is filet. An American ton is lighter than an Imperial ton. But the point remains that open-ended requests for help are not good Stack Exchange questions, and further that requests for resources, if you are asking for a particular guide or manual, are not on-topic here (although you can post them on the Meta site).
    – choster
    Dec 13, 2018 at 19:56
  • Add also the BrE spelling for defence, aluminium, centre, sulphur (to name just a few), and the marvellous rule for double L. I think the only solution is to become transatlantically bilingual :-) Dec 13, 2018 at 22:13

2 Answers 2


Switch your spellchecker in MSWord to 'English (United Kingdom)' and it will catch all but the words that can be spelled correctly either way in English - there are a few 'ise' / 'ize' ending words like that. There really aren't that many words that are different if you're translating a scientific paper.

  • Does Google Drive also have that option? My lifestyle requires that I use cloud tools to translate papers so I hardly use MS Word for that.
    – RAKK
    Dec 13, 2018 at 18:00
  • @RAKK Try this: File > Language > English (United Kingdom).
    – Laurel
    Dec 14, 2018 at 6:05

Most of the differences in technical writing are spellings. Wikipedia has an article with plenty of examples. Common ones are endings: -re instead of -er, -our instead of -or and -ise instead of -ize (though the latter is accepted by some authorities in British English. There are plenty of others. Whole words include sulphur and aluminium in some contexts - in others the spellings chosen by IUPAC (chemistry) are used whatever flavour of English is used. -ae- and -oe- are much more common in British English, a simple -e- is used in American (many words in a medical context, for example)

The other differences tend to be:

  • more idiomatic and therefore less suitable for technical writing than alternative phrasing.
  • widely understood, to the point that whether they're Americanisms or not is a matter for debate.
  • variable between style guides anyway.

A few specific cases are worth mentioning (addressed from the point of view of academic British English):

  • gotten isn't a word.
  • spelt is the past tense of spell and not just a form of wheat (spelled is also acceptable).
  • British English is more likely to double a final consonant when adding a suffix.
  • we fly in aeroplanes not airplanes.

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