I would like to know what are standard practices when words are spelled differently across the literature and/or dictionaries (when these words can be found in dictionaries). A few examples of the kind of discrepancies I see:

  flow field vs flow-field vs flowfield
  sub-critical vs subcritical
  mass flow-rate vs mass-flow rate vs mass flowrate
  sub-grid vs subgrid

Is the most important thing for my own work (i.e., PhD thesis) to be consistent? For example, just make sure flow-field is always hyphenated?

  • Probably belongs on English Stack Exchange
    – gerrit
    Nov 9 '12 at 23:28
  • 2
    @gerrit This is more an issue of usage within the domain.
    – Kris
    Nov 13 '12 at 5:40

This depends upon what's being written. For a university thesis, for instance, you should follow the guidelines of your particular institution: if they recommend a particular style manual, such as the Chicago Manual of Style or the [ACS Style Guide], then you should follow the recommendations contained therein. If you are publishing in another venue, follow the guidelines of the publisher, if they make those available.

Otherwise, you should follow a consistent set of guidelines. Note that this is not the same as saying "always use a hyphen" or "never use a hyphen." For instance, you would write

"the velocity of the flow field increased"


"the flow-field variables are . . ."

because "flow field" is a noun in the first example, and "flow-field" is an adjective in the second. There the hyphen links the connected words: "flow-field" and "variable" versus "flow" and "field variable."

  • Thanks for the explanations, I had never looked into that subtlety before (English is not my mother tongue). Unfortunately, my university does not seem to recommend any specific style guide, so I will just try to follow the general principles you described and also the answer to this question or this one. Nov 9 '12 at 16:14
  • Hyphenation can sometimes change the meaning. un-ionised vs union-ised.
    – Owain
    Jun 10 '20 at 18:15

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