Style Manual Review: IEEE

Posted: February 29, 2012 in School papers, Technical Writing

This was a school paper. We had to review a style manual. I didn’t have experience with IEEE before this, so it was new territory for me.

IEEE Editorial Style Manual: A Review

Amanda White

[1]       IEEE. IEEE Editorial Style Manual. [Online.] Available:

The IEEE Editorial Style Manual is published by IEEE, which stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and is pronounced “eye-triple-E.” It is a set of editorial guidelines used for the IEEE’s Transactions, Journals, and Letters. These include scientific publications on a vast array of topics, from Aerospace and Electronic Systems to Plasma Science.

No date, authors, or historical information on this style manual is available. I have been in touch with the IEEE to see if they could give me some background information, but as of this post I am still waiting for a comprehensive response. The latest dates cited in the references examples are in 1997, but Webster’s College Dictionary, 4th Edition, was published in 2004, so the earliest it could have last been updated is 2004.


The manual is only eighteen pages long, referring users to the Chicago Manual of Style for issues not covered in the IEEE manual. It is divided into two sections: the main body of the manual, and an extensive citation guide headed “Editing References.” The main body is divided into seven topics: IEEE Transactions Editing Philosophy, Parts of a Paper, Body of a Paper, Other Text, Other Types of Papers, Editorial Style for Transactions, and Rules of Grammar. The Editing References portion contains instructions and multiple examples for: Periodicals, Books, Reports, Handbooks, Published Conference Proceedings, Papers Presented at Conferences, Patents, Theses and Dissertations, Unpublished, Standards. It also gives instructions for citing online resources, including websites, FTP, email, and telnet. This section ends with a list of common abbreviations of words used in references, and four pages of abbreviations for IEEE publications.


The manual is short enough that no table of contents is needed. The main body of the paper takes up less than five pages, with most of the rest given over to reference examples and abbreviations. The organization of headings and subheadings did not represent a clear outline, and at times I struggled to understand what I was reading about. One example of what appears to me to be outline dysfunction occurs on the first page. The second heading (page 1) is “Parts of a Paper,” which only includes the subheadings “Paper Title” and “First Footnote.” This is followed by third heading, “Body of a Paper,” which appears in the same heading level as “Parts of a Paper,” and contains subheadings “Abstract,” “Index Terms,” “Nomenclature,” all the way down to “References” and “Biographies.” Doesn’t the body of a paper, and all it contains, fall under the category “Parts of a Paper?” Why, then, was it given its own equal heading, leaving “Parts of a Paper” with only two introductory subheadings? Another place that I thought was strangely organized was the “On-Line Sources” section of the References guide. Instead of having subsections for email, FTP, websites, etc., each type of reference is given its own heading (Books, journal articles, magazine articles, etc.) with rules for citing it as online content, followed by clarification on how it should be cited specifically for email, FTP, websites, etc. I would have rather seen a subheading for each type of online media, or these online specifications included under the main entry for each type of reference. I should mention, however, that the manual claims these online additions are based on ISO and APA standards, so perhaps they borrowed the layout of the information from one of those sources.

Examples of style choices

Spelling The IEEE manual refers users to Webster’s College Dictionary, 4th Edition, for spelling, and makes no spelling specifications of its own. It does, however, make extensive lists of acceptable abbreviations, such as “cybern.” for cybernetics and “proc.” for proceedings. The biographies section also lists abbreviations for international degrees, such as Dipl. Ing. and Diplom-Physiker, but does not give translations for these, explain what they stand for, or even list which countries or languages they are from, so I imagine this list to be impractical for most people to use.

Number use Numbers in the tens and hundreds of thousands should use “thin spaces” instead of a comma between the numbers. I had never heard of a “thin space.” I thought they might mean an “en space,” since the document referenced em and en spaces and dashes elsewhere. However, I looked up thin spaces in the Chicago Manual of Style, and they define it as a very thin space, one-fifth or one-sixth of an em space. But examples given in the IEEE Manual look more like just a regular, default space. I’m not sure if the author used the wrong term, or if the examples were originally printed with a thin space but the formatting was lost.

IEEE indicates that zeros should be used in front of decimals (which, I infer, are less than one but more than negative one), but not added to the end. That is, 0.25 is correct, but .25 or .250 are incorrect. I was curious as to how this stacked up with Chicago, so I looked it up. Chicago does not say anything about zeros tacked on to the end of decimals, but is in agreement with their inclusion before the decimal point, with the exception of firearm calibers and batting averages.

Capitalization The only note on capitalization in the IEEE style manual is for trademarks. After stating that symbols like ® and ™ are not to be used, it says that only the first letter of the trademark should be capitalized. I was puzzled by this at first. Did that mean that Coca-Cola should be written Coca-cola? But upon reflection, I think that they just meant not to put the brand name in all caps. Chicago is in agreement on both the interdiction on trademark symbols and the capitalization.

Citation Citations are where the IEEE stands out, visually, from other style manuals, with its numbering instructions: “Reference numbers are set flush left and form a column of their own, hanging out beyond the body of the reference. The reference numbers are on the line, enclosed in square brackets (page 5).”  Otherwise, differences between IEEE and Chicago are not glaring. Periodicals, for example, are structured similarly, but with a few differences: the placement of month and year information is later in IEEE than in Chicago; IEEE encourages abbreviations of periodical titles and months; and IEEE includes the abbreviation “vol.” before the volume number, where Chicago just states the number, letting the reader infer that it is the number of the volume. Here is an example taken from IEEE:

[2]       J. U. Buncombe, “Infrared navigation—Part I: Theory,” IEEE Trans.

   Aerosp. Electron. Syst., vol. AES-4, pp. 352– 377, Sept. 1944.

In Chicago style, this entry would appear:

2. J. U. Buncombe, “Infrared navigation—Part I: Theory,” IEEE Transactions on

Aerospace and Electronic Systems AES-4 (September 1944): 352-377.

Books are likewise similar. The only major formatting difference is that Chicago’s city and publisher info is contained in parentheses, and IEEE’s is not The only content difference is that IEEE requires the name of the country if the city is outside the U.S., whereas Chicago only requests it if the city name might be unfamiliar to readers.

An example from IEEE:

[2]       L. Stein, “Random patterns,” in Computers and You, J. S. Brake, Ed. New

   York: Wiley, 1994, pp. 55-70.

Translated into Chicago:

2. L. Stein, “Random Patterns,” in Computers and You, ed. J. S. Brake (New

York: Wiley, 1994).  55-70.

Other language variables: I was confused by a direction in the IEEE manual’s “Rules of Grammar” section (page 5) to “enclose parenthetic expressions between commas.” No example was given to clarify this. My first thought was that this meant that parenthesized comments needed to be set off by commas as well as parentheses, (like this), but as I had never actually seen that done anywhere, I was doubtful. After looking up the word “parenthetical” and learning that it does not necessarily require a phrase to be in parentheses, but can be applied to any sort of “aside,” I am leaning towards the explanation that IEEE prefers such comments to be contained between commas instead of between parentheses or em dashes. An example would have been helpful.

IEEE also states, “Do not use double parentheses in text expression, but keep them in math.” This is more or less in agreement with Chicago, which does not expressly prohibit nested parentheses, but “prefers” brackets, and does allow for nested parentheses where mathematics require them.


The IEEE Editorial Style Guide is short, sweet, and incomplete. I see it more as a style sheet to be used alongside the Chicago Manual of Style. I also see it as needing a revision, at least in its formatting. Additionally, it should be updated to include digital object identifiers, which are used extensively in Chicago’s 16th edition, but completely unmentioned in IEEE. Most importantly, I believe that it would benefit from examples given for all rules, not just for references. However, I do believe it serves its purpose as a style sheet for mathematic notation and specialized abbreviation, which are subjects that can be buried or incomplete in less scientific style manuals.


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