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Damn the tildes and full speed ahead!

December 16, 2014 Filed under Blog, Featured, Writing 


Reader Matt Bunkers raised the issue of the tilde (~) in scientific writing. Some use it for “proportional to”. Others use it for “order of magnitude”. Still others use it for “approximately”.

Given the wide variety of uses for the tilde, why not just write out what you mean? Doing so will make your writing more accessible to your audience.

order at


2 Responses to “Damn the tildes and full speed ahead!”
  1. Jim says:

    There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the tilde, just as there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the millibar (mb)! Long live the millibar. So much easier to say that hecto-Pascal…

  2. Since you asked a “why” question, I’ll try to answer. Most folks using the tilde (proper symbol for “on the order of”) and the double tilde (“approximately”) are trying to be concise. The more uses of “approximately” or “on the order of” are in the paper, the longer it gets. Using symbols in place of often-reused words, when appropriate (and obviously there’s disagreement on what’s appropriate) is a way to pack the same information into a smaller space.

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