I'm writing an academic paper in the CS field. I'd like to define five symbols as tersely as possible.

Can I say this as the following using 'let' and semi colons? Like:

Let $a$ be xxxx; $b$ be xxxxxx; $c$ be xxxxx; $d$ be xxxxx; $e$ be xxxxxx.

If answer is no, I would appreciate if you suggest a suitable and short alternative for an academic paper.

  • 1
    This would work for me as a reader, especially if it were preceded by a short sentence like, "We define the following variables/constants/symbols:" Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 14:47

2 Answers 2


If you're in the "squeezing blood from a stone" stage of paper compression, trying to fit 10 pages of text into a 6 page limit or the like, then sure.

If you want readers to be able to understand what you're talking about, however, you typically want to give your variables a bit more space to breathe. Definitions sections are typically very dense and hard going, cognitively speaking, and the more that you can present in a reader-friendly manner, the better the rest of the paper is going to be. If each symbol is important and distinct, then it's worth devoting the space to explain each naturally. If you really do have a large number of not-very-interesting variables best explained by brief phrases rather than prose, consider using a table instead, which at least provides a clear and separate visual organization of the symbols.

  • 12
    A well-organized table can make it much easier to look up a symbol when reading a formula. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 11:57
  • 5
    +1 for using a table, wherever possible. So much easier to read and understand. It may even be appropriate to create a "master table" for the whole paper, wherein every variable is defined. The most opaque prose is often that which is loaded with symbols and short mathematical expressions. Better to compartmentalize those devices if they're used often.
    – Moriarty
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 12:17
  • I would consider a bulleted list rather than a table, since that fits more naturally into a longer written text.
    – svick
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 23:56

The best way would be to use commas:

Let $a$ be xxxx, $b$ be xxxxxx, $c$ be xxxxx, $d$ be xxxxx, and $e$ be xxxxxx.

As indicated in this answer:

When elements in a series involve internal punctuation, or when they are very long and complex, they should be separated by semicolons.

You could also introduce the formula first, and then the meaning of the variables:

R = pq,

where p is the price at which each widget is sold and q is the number of widgets sold

See: A Guide to Writing Mathematics (K.P. Lee) for more information about writing in mathematics.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .