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In scientific papers, the term "Figure" -- referring to an illustration in the text -- is often abbreviated as "Fig." But is "Figures" abbreviated as "Figs", "Fig.s" or "Figs."? I am proofreading a paper just now and the journal editors have used the abbreviation "Fig." for "Figure" and "Figs" (no period) for "Figures" as in "Figs 2 and 3".

Can anyone explain the convention of abbreviation as it applies in this case?

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  • Why would you abbreviate “Figures”, anyway? Yeah sure, academic papers will say to “see Fig. 42”, but I cannot imagine an instance where “Figures” itself would both occur and require abbreviation. – tchrist Jun 3 '12 at 3:27
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    It depends on the style manual you're using or conventions adopted for a particular publication. Ask your editors. – Alex B. Jun 3 '12 at 3:58
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A quick search on Google shows that the practice of abbreviating Figures really took off in the last 40 years and that it most often appears as Figs. (with the period)

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In general, the rule is that when an abbreviation ends with the same letter as the word written out in full, a period (full stop) is not used. For example, Prof. Smith, but Profs Dupont and Dupond. However, in the case of Figures, both Fig., Figs., and Figs are acceptable and used. Therefore, you should follow the example used in the journal, i.e., check the formatting guidelines or look at other articles published recently in that journal. If in doubt, choose one style and use it consistently!

P.S. Perhaps a more day-to-day example is that (in British English) we write Mr Smith and Mrs Jones as opposed to Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones because both of these words end with the same letter as the abbreviated form; that is, Mister and Mistress. However, in American English, a period is used after both Mr. and Mrs., so perhaps the most important lesson is that consistency and clarity are the most important factors.

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Figures and Figure should normally be abbreviated as Fig. even if you are quoating Fig. 1 to 3 i.e. to say Figure 1, Figure 2 and Figure 3.

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I'm a translator. Once upon a time, I searched "scientific paper style figure table abbreviation" and I got this:

Abbreviation of the word "Figure": When referring to a Figure in the text, the word "Figure" is abbreviated as "Fig.", while "Table" is not abbreviated. Both words are spelled out completely in descriptive legends.

In short: main text -> abbreviation; caption -> spell out.

Later, the format that I use and the one my coworker uses conflict. I searched hard to find the old reference back and this time I notice that the reference is from "Bates College" (what is that anyway) and in the process of the "re-searching" (I mean "search again") it turns out Bates College is the only place that says you should style a paper this way!

As a result, there is no uniform global rule. And I have to follow the "local rule" (I don't like it).

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