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I'm elaborating a small scorecard for a comparison between two technologies, I was wondering if it would be formally acceptable to use "and/or" in my bullet points, e.g., "Not automated and/or involves excessive configuration."

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    I think this ultimately depends on your adviser and perhaps the rest of your thesis committee. If I were your adviser, it would not be OK. – Andreas Blass Apr 19 '15 at 0:48
  • "A or B or both" or "A or B (or both)". – David Richerby Apr 19 '15 at 10:43
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    As a programmer, I would simply rewrite it "Not automated, or involves excessive configuration.". Seems to flow better. – Thomas Apr 19 '15 at 12:50
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The construction "and/or" generally betrays a weak sentence construction. It's almost always possible to replace the use of "and/or" with a more satisfactory construction (such as "either . . . or" or "at least one of").

So while you are allowed to use it (unless your style manual tells you otherwise!), I think it's always better to avoid it in such writing. (One sign that it has not really gained widespread acceptance is the fact that most style manuals still tell you to eliminate "and/or" constructions entirely.)

  • I agree with this. At minimum it is poor form and should be rewritten. For example, you could write something like "two disadvantages of technology A are that it lacks automation and requires excessive configuration". – user49483 Apr 19 '15 at 4:46
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    either … and? Also, I would like to add that in many cases, a simple or suffices. – Wrzlprmft Apr 19 '15 at 7:16
  • For three or more possibilities, it might be more elegant to say "one or more of: X, Y, and Z". – Moriarty Apr 19 '15 at 7:56
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    @aeismail But "either... or" is never a valid substitute for "and/or". It completely changes the meaning: "either... or" means that exactly one of the options holds; "and/or" means that at least one holds and you're emphasizing the possibility that it might be more than one. – David Richerby Apr 19 '15 at 10:38
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    @aeismail I have never seen "A and/or B" used to mean anything other than "A or B or both". – David Richerby Apr 19 '15 at 12:39
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Even if your advisers allow "and/or", it is best to write in good style.

In general, any phrasing that cannot be read aloud is bad style, because it will make the reader stumble.

Try "berries or apples or both" instead of "berries and/or apples". It is more legible.

This is also what Strunk and White recommend.

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From a purely linguistic perspective, there is nothing wrong with and/or. Some languages do have dedicated conjunctions with this meaning ---e.g, German beziehungsweise, normally abbreviated to bzw in writing (and before you ask: yes, bzw appears in technical/formal writing too). Whether using and/or in a dissertation is ok from a stylistic perspect is a different matter. Strunk and White say it's not ok, but frankly, a substantial part of what Strunk and White say has little to no basis in reality.

Semi-ultimately, it is up to whether your advisor is ok with it, and really ultimately, it is up to how much you care about whether future readers of your dissertation will be ok with it.

  • It's not just Strunk and White. The ACS Style Guide for chemists tells you to avoid it, and the Chicago Manual of Style posts the same prohibition as: "Avoid this Janus-faced term." – aeismail Apr 20 '15 at 8:49
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    I disagree "beziehungsweise" means the same as "and/or" (or as "und/oder"). "Die Ampel kann rot beziehungsweise grün sein." makes sense (in particular when referring to some previously established context), whereas "The traffic lights can be red and/or green." does not. – O. R. Mapper Apr 20 '15 at 9:14
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I think that "or" means "and/or", but I might use the latter in rare cases where emphasis of the "and" possibility was called for.

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    Stack Exchange answers should contain verifiable information or at least reasoning, rather than just statements of personal opinion. – David Richerby Apr 19 '15 at 10:41
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    @DavidRicherby "Or" can mean "and/or". It's known as the inclusive or. Whether this is actually used in natural language is a debated issue. – Sverre Apr 19 '15 at 16:25

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