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Use of 'and/or' in academic writing...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by VonnegutGLA, Sep 30, 2010.

  1. VonnegutGLA Junior Member

    English - Glasgwegian
    Hello,

    I've recently been advised by a tutor that I should not use the phrase 'and/or' in an essay because "symbols should never be used in academic writing". This seems spurious to me. However, before I mount up onto my high horse and suggest as much, I thought I'd better check my facts.

    Is the use of 'and/or' to be avoided for the reason given above, or any other?

    Many thanks, in advance...

    - V
     
  2. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    I avoid "and/or" and similar constructions in my own writing; however, I've seen them in others' writing. To me the term should only be used in text about logic, mathematics, or some related field. When used in general text, it signals uncertainty or indecisiveness on the writer's part.

    I think your tutor's advice sounds good. Avoid this ambiguous term unless you have some precise mathematical need for it.
     
  3. VonnegutGLA Junior Member

    English - Glasgwegian
    Thank you. I'll take this one on the chin, then.

    I had always been of the opinion that it is better to aim for concision in academic writing, and the use of 'and/or' can obviate the need for lengthy explanation in some cases. I've revisited the sentence I used it in, which was :

    The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 allows specialist practitioners to impose compulsory treatment and/or detention for people with a defined mental disorder in order to safeguard their wellbeing (OPFI, 2010).


    I've now re-drafted it to avoid the use of and/or, and my new version seems terribly wordy. However, it does take away any ambiguity, so perhaps that's the lesser of the two evils.

    Thanks again for the advice.

    - V
     
  4. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    Gee, Vonnegut, I didn't want to talk you into a wordy or clumsy revision, which would be a worse sin in my book than using and/or in your language. As this is a definition of a specific act, I think "and/or" looks normal. I think it shows up in legal text as well as mathematical text.

    In your context, I don't think "and/or" looks bad or indecisive. My earlier advice was really aimed at somebody who might decide to use "and/or" as a regular substitute for the ordinary conjunctions "and" and "or".

    Of course, you'll have to decide if your wordy version sounds worse than the "and/or" version. If it does, then I advise to keep "and/or" in that text. It is just a description of an act, after all. It doesn't have to read like a great short story. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2010
  5. VonnegutGLA Junior Member

    English - Glasgwegian
    Gah! Now I'm thoroughly confused. :D


    On balance, though, I think I'll err on the side of caution and not question my tutor's guidance (generally, not a good career move anyway, I think...:D). When I initially read her comments, I felt that referring to '/' as a "symbol" was a bit of a stretch; I don't think it's on a par with using '<' instead of writing 'less than', for example (which, of course, I would never do unless I was writing a mathematical example). However, I think that you make a good point about avoiding ambiguity, and it will certainly make me think twice about the appropriateness of using 'and/or' in future.

    Every day's a lesson...

    Thanks again.

    - V
     
  6. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    Hello, Vonnegut. If you're still interested in this thread, I have a suggestion for avoiding "and/or" without being too wordy. Change this: "...compulsory treatment and/or detention for people" into this: "...compulsory treatment, detention, or both for people with..."
     
  7. VonnegutGLA Junior Member

    English - Glasgwegian
    Of course! That makes perfect sense. I guess I was suffering from 'invisible trees' syndrome, as that just seems so obvious now. I'm feeling slightly embarrassed by my attempt at re-drafting now - I'm just glad I didn't post it here. :eek:

    Many thanks for taking the time to do this :)


    - V
     
  8. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    I would never use "and/or" in formal writing writing (e.g. private sector, business, government, academic ~ I've done a range). There are proper ways to convey the same meaning.

    e.g.

    The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 allows specialist practitioners to impose compulsory treatment and detention as necessary for people with a defined mental disorder in order to safeguard their wellbeing (OPFI, 2010).

    The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 allows specialist practitioners to impose either compulsory treatment or detention, or both, for people with a defined mental disorder in order to safeguard their wellbeing (OPFI, 2010).


    I have to wonder though, if a practitioner compulsorily detained a patient for a mental disorder, would that patient ever NOT be treated?
     
  9. VonnegutGLA Junior Member

    English - Glasgwegian
    @nzfauna - Thanks for those suggestions, either of which would be a superior alternative to my version.

    You're also right to say that compulsory treatment and detention are very closely linked, and certainly patients who are detained against their wishes will be in receipt of 'treatment' (compulsory, by default). However, there are separate orders that relate to these two types of intervention, and a patient can be subject to a Compulsory Treatment Order whilst out in the community, and therefore not detained.

    I take your point, though. Although I've been practicising this language for 38 years now, I'm only starting to get to grips with this academic writing stuff. ;)

    - V
     

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