Academic writing often involves presenting complex ideas, and sometimes authors may need to express multiple conditions at the same time. When it comes to expressing such combinations, one term that frequently crops up is “and/or.” This term is often used to convey the idea that one or more conditions may be present simultaneously. However, some people argue that “and/or” can create ambiguity and confusion in writing. In this blog, we will discuss whether academics should use “and/or” and what style manuals recommend.
What does “and/or” mean?
“And/or” is a conjunction that conveys that one or both of two or more options may be possible or true. For example, in a survey, a respondent might be asked if they are a full-time student and/or employed part-time. In this context, the question implies that the respondent may be a full-time student, a part-time employee, or both.
Why does and/or cause confusion?
The use of “and/or” can create ambiguity in writing because it is often unclear which condition is meant to be optional. In some cases, using “and/or” may be more precise than using just “and” or “or.” However, in many instances, using “and/or” can lead to confusion and weaken the clarity of the message.
Consider the following example:
“You must complete the online registration and/or pay the registration fee.”
This sentence suggests that the reader may either complete the online registration, pay the fee, or do both. However, it is unclear which action is mandatory and which is optional. A better way to write this sentence might be:
“You must either complete the online registration or pay the registration fee.”
Take another example:
“I would like to interview a teacher and/or professor for the research paper.”
The slash means that I will be happy to interview a teacher , OR professor, OR both teacher AND professor. In other words, the use of “and/or” has made it possible to state that there are three possible combinations that can be interviewed.
Here, the use of and/or is well-placed since there is no need to mention anything is mandatory or important, as was in the previous example.
What do editors and style manuals advise?
Most editors and style manuals discourage the use of “and/or” in writing because it can lead to ambiguity. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style advises against using “and/or” and suggests using other constructions such as “and/or both” or “or both” when both conditions are optional.
The American Psychological Association (APA) style also discourages the use of “and/or” in academic writing. The APA suggests that authors should use separate sentences or clauses to convey multiple conditions, rather than using “and/or.”
In conclusion, while the use of “and/or” can be useful in certain contexts, it is generally discouraged in academic writing because it can create ambiguity and weaken the clarity of the message. By doing so, authors can ensure that their writing is clear and easy to understand for their readers.