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There's a few different styles for technical (academic) papers. Which is the preferred style to introducing new technical terms?

For example, here is a paragraph I have that I don't like, because I am suspicious of introducing a term inside parenthesis.

But because local lighting models do not consider other scene geometry, its not possible to directly model the effect of light bouncing from one piece of geometry to the next (interreflections), or geometry that blocks light from reaching a surface (shadows).
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This really depends on the field and on the particular journal even. Personally I would look at papers in the journal you are looking to submit to and copy their style. From my POV what you have there is fine especially since you are merely defining jargon and not explaining a new complicated concept. –  crasic Sep 13 '11 at 18:25
    
I agree. The terms you are defining are not insanely complex; I don't even think they're jargon. For the second one, you're just taking a regular word and explaining how it applies or is defined specifically in this field. Unless your field does something elaborate and unique, I think that paragraph reads perfectly well. –  Lauren Ipsum Sep 13 '11 at 18:49

2 Answers 2

You are trying to get the sentence to do two things. You might want to omit the terms in brackets until you have a chance to explain them. Trying to cram too much into one sentence makes it unwieldy.

But because local lighting models do not consider other scene geometry, its not possible to directly model the effect of light bouncing from one piece of geometry to the next, or geometry that blocks light from reaching a surface.

Light bouncing from one piece of geometry to the next is known as interreflection, and can be modelled using [something to do with the next thing you were going to explain]...

We refer to the concept of light being blocked from reaching a surface as a shadow, and understand it instinctively because...

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As the comments to your questions mention, there is no preferred way, only maybe a preferred way in your field.

Let me sum up a few alternatives:

First, the style you are already using (but do not like):

But because local lighting models do not consider other scene geometry, it's not possible to directly model the effect of light bouncing from one piece of geometry to the next (interreflections), or geometry that blocks light from reaching a surface (shadows).

Well, nothing wrong with that. The term and its description are at one place. Easy to read, easy to understand.

Second, your style in reverse:

But because local lighting models do not consider other scene geometry, it's not possible to model interreflections (the effect of light bouncing from one piece of geometry to the next), or shadows (geometry that blocks light from reaching a surface).

Term and description are again at one place, but the text in parenthesis is longer. So you interrupt the "outer" sentence longer, which can be confusing and harder to digest.

Third, using footnotes:

But because local lighting models do not consider other scene geometry, it's not possible to model interreflections1, or shadows2.

1 the effect of light bouncing from one piece of geometry to the next
2 geometry that blocks light from reaching a surface

The main sentence stays short and clearly. But the reader has to move his eyes down, away from the text to read the footnote. And footnotes are normally written in a smaller font size. Pressing necessary info into small letters is neither a good practice in contracts, nor in academic papers.

Fourth, using a glossary/endnotes:

Text looks similar to the footnote example. You can have a bigger font, but know your reader has to flip pages to find the important information. So using a glossary as the only explanation source isn't a good idea. It is helpful as additional source. I.e. explain the term where it first appears (like in the first example) and again in a glossary, where the reader could look it up, if he forget what it means ten pages later.

Fifth, introducing terms before usage:

interreflection: the effect of light bouncing from one piece of geometry to the next
shadow: area where a geometry blocked light from reaching the surface

But because local lighting models do not consider other scene geometry, it's not possible to model interreflections or shadows.

I have read a book like that, and it was pretty awkward. I do not recommend this approach.

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