Idioms and Spelling

Idiomatically, ‘respectively’ is an adverb that is often misused by non-native English speakers. It means “in the order given” and should only be used if your sentence would be unclear without it.


Oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen detector flows were set at 85, 7, and 4 mL/min, respectively.

The use of respectively here makes it clear that the first gas mentioned goes with the first number, the second gas goes with the second number, and the third gas with the third number.

More examples:

Good: The two values were 143.2 and 21.6.

Bad: The two values were 143.2 and 21.6, respectively.

Good: The tubes containing blood and saline were labeled B and S, respectively.

Bad: The two tubes were labeled B and S, respectively.


Should you use UK or U.S. spelling? Check the journal’s Instructions for Authors to find out which spelling the journal requires. In many cases the journal will accept either form, just remember to be consistent with the spellings throughout your manuscript.


  • fiber
  • center
  • labeling
  • color


  • fibre
  • centre
  • labelling
  • colour

TIP: Microsoft Word can help you with correct spellings. Simply open your Language preferences and chose either UK or U.S. spelling and ensure “checking spelling as you type” is selected. Misspelled words should now be underlined in red and can be corrected.


The colon “:” and semicolon “;” are two punctuation marks that are often misused. 

A colon is used to introduce a list or a clause that explains the clause before the colon.


There are a number of Springer Nature journals that accept manuscripts dealing with biology: Central European Journal of Biology, Journal of Chemical Biology, Journal of Mathematical Biology, and Journal of Plant Biology.

Semicolons are used in two ways:

To separate two independent clauses (clauses that could be complete sentences by themselves) if you do not use a connecting word like “and” or “while” between them.

To separate items in a list if some items in the list have commas within them. In other words, semicolons are used instead of commas if commas would be confusing.


The patient was unresponsive; doctors were running everywhere carrying medical equipment.

These two clauses could be separate sentences: “The patient was unresponsive. Doctors were running everywhere carrying medical equipment.” However, the semicolon suggests that there is a relationship between these two sentences. You can usually tell from the context what the actual relationship is.

More examples:

She works all day as a nurse in a retirement home; in addition, she is studying in the evenings to become a doctor.

Dr. Benaud is a French researcher; however, he lives in Antarctica.

Thousands of mites crossed the barrier from region A to region B every hour; therefore, it was not possible to count all of them.

Our main findings were that uninsured patients are most likely to visit the emergency room for their health care needs; that children, the elderly, and the unemployed are the groups most affected by lack of insurance; and that the uninsured are a heavy burden on hospitals.


“Large” and “small” are generally used to express variations or changes in size, dimensions, or mass. “High” and “low” are usually used to express levels or numerical values. “Large” and “small” are often mistakenly used where “high” and “low” would be better.


Good: A small amount of the brain’s capacity is needed for survival instincts.

Bad: A low amount of the brain’s capacity is needed for survival instincts.

Good: We detected a large fluctuation in average migration of gazelles between June 4 and 18.

Bad: A high fluctuation in average migration of gazelles was detected between June 4 and 18.

For Further Support

We hope that with this tutorial you have a clearer idea of the best ways to write in international English and how to write in a way that will help you publish your manuscript in the journal of your choice. Good luck with publishing your work!

If you feel that you would like some further support with writing your paper and writing in English, Springer Nature offer some services which may be of help.

  • Nature Research Editing Service offers high quality  English language and scientific editing. During language editing, Editors will improve the English in your manuscript to ensure the meaning is clear and identify problems that require your review. With Scientific Editing experienced development editors will improve the scientific presentation of your research in your manuscript and cover letter, if supplied. They will also provide you with a report containing feedback on the most important issues identified during the edit, as well as journal recommendations.
  • Our affiliates American Journal Experts also provide English language editing* as well as other author services that may support you in preparing your manuscript.
  • We provide both online and face-to-face training for researchers on all aspects of the manuscript writing process.

* Please note, using an editing service is neither a requirement nor a guarantee of acceptance for publication. 

Test your knowledge

Take the Quiz!

Stay up to date

Follow us on Twitter

Here to foster information exchange with the library community

Connect on LinkedIn

Connect with us on LinkedIn and stay up to date with news and development.