Semantics: Do we have to keep using “respectively”?

It would be hard to find a scientific paper that does not use the word “respectively” to be precise about the sequential referencing of previous words in a sentence. Even though it is usually “correct” to use this word, I feel that it is often unnecessary because the context gives adequate information for the reader to figure out the meaning on their own.

Here’s a generic example of how respectively is used:

The mean of X and Y are shown in Figures 1 and 2, respectively.

I use this type of sentence a lot. Most of the time it just as simple as this example, so the reader can easily connect the dots. Additionally, the thing being refereced (i.e. figures) are almost always labelled, which further makes the word “respectively” unnecessary.

If we didn’t use the type of sentence above we would need separate sentences to describe trivial things, or perhaps some type of parenthetical reference scheme:

The mean of X (Fig. 1) and Y (Fig. 2) …

In this instance the second example is a much more efficient way to draw the readers attention to the figure of interest, but other times the text flows better with the first example.

I feel that in simple cases like this, it isn’t really necessary to use “respectively“, because it’s hard to see how the reader could be confused if it were left out. However, I never omit the word for fear that I’m going to be scolded by a grammar nazi.

I understand the argument for being strict about grammar, because it is easy to imagine a scenario where using “respectively” makes the sentence much clearer. Such as,

The surface temperature is fixed to 300K and 301K in Model A and B.

I could imagine a reader being confused by the above example if more details were not provided. For instance, is the temperature changed from two fixed temperatures over time in both models? Or are the two fixed temperatures used in two different regions (ex. land vs ocean)?

I realize this is a stupid semantic argument, but in some instances being a little loose with grammar can be beneficial, and this is about one of those potential instances.


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