Project Details A Brief Guide to Polymer Terminology

Project No.:
Start Date:
01 June 2013
End Date:
Division Name:


To disseminate throughout the international polymer community a short, easily assimilated, guide to the essentials of polymer terminology.


Most polymer scientists are aware of the importance of using terminology defined and approved by IUPAC. However, the polymer literature is abundant with terms for which there are a variety of definitions and, as editors and readers of polymer journals know, there is widespread confusion concerning even the most common terms.

This project draws upon experience gained from the successful project, “A Brief Guide to Polymer Nomenclature” ( and is of comparable strategic importance in that it is directed to the enhancement of awareness of primary IUPAC output. The project will deliver a concise 2-page document that will act as a basic guide to IUPAC terminology for authors publishing in polymer and related science journals, and which will be readily accessible through the websites of those journals. The document will also be produced on a two-sided, gloss-finished card for provision as a teaching aid.

The editors of journals and other learned society publications in polymer science and related sciences will be encouraged to participate in the project in two ways: (1) by incorporating hard copies of the final document in their freely-distributed January issues; and (2) by giving prominence to permanent web links to the document, which in turn will provide reference to the detail given in the primary IUPAC polymer terminology documents.

The document will not be a summary of all terms; rather it will seek to put the most commonly used terms into context in plain English in a manner that will be comprehensible to scientists, including those with little prior knowledge of polymers, or with little experience of the use of scientific English, or both.

The guidelines will include:

  1. the important basic terms used in polymer science;
  2. careful distinctions of terms that are often misused;
  3. hyper-links to the relevant primary IUPAC documents.

The document may reference terms in nomenclature as part of a basic introduction, but the main body of the document will deal with terminology, not nomenclature.


Documents to which the “A Brief Guide to Polymer Terminology” will refer:

– Terms throughout the document will be hyperlinked to the web-versions of the IUPAC Gold Book, the Purple Book and, where appropriate, the other color Books.

– Principles of Chemical Nomenclature, by Jeff Leigh.

– Polymer terminology documents listed below, originally published in Pure and Applied Chemistry and subsequently revised for publication in the 2nd edition of the “Purple Book”:

  • Glossary of Basic Terms in Polymer Science (1996)
  • Stereochemical Definitions and Notations Relating to Polymers (1980)
  • Definitions of Terms Relating to Individual Macromolecules, Their Assemblies, and Dilute Polymer Solutions (1988)
  • Basic Classification and Definitions of Polymerization Reactions (1994)
  • Definitions Relating to Stereochemically Asymmetric Polymerizations (2002)
  • Definitions of Terms Relating to Crystalline Polymers (1988)
  • Definitions of Basic Terms Relating to Low-Molar-Mass and Polymer Liquid Crystals (2001)
  • Definitions of Terms Relating to the Non-Ultimate Mechanical Properties of Polymers (1997)
  • Definitions of Terms Related to Polymer Blends, Composites, and Multiphase Polymeric Materials (2004)
  • Terminology of Polymers Containing Ionizable or Ionic Groups and of Polymers Containing Ions (2006)
  • Definitions of Terms Relating to the Structure and Processing of Sols, Gels, Networks and Inorganic-Organic Hybrid Materials (2007)
  • Definitions of Terms Relating to Reactions of Polymers and to Functional Polymeric Materials (2003)
  • Definitions of Terms Relating to Degradation, Aging, and Related Chemical Transformations of Polymers (1996)

– Other terminology documents published since the revision of the Purple Book:

  • Dispersity in Polymer Science (2009)
  • Terminology for reversible-deactivation radical polymerization previously called “controlled” radical or “living” radical polymerization (2010)
  • Terminology of polymers and polymerization processes in dispersed systems (2011)
  • Definitions of Terms Relating to Crystalline Polymers (2011)
  • Terminology and Nomenclature for Macromolecular Rotaxanes and Pseudorotaxanes (2012)
  • A Brief Guide to Polymer Nomenclature (2012)
  • Glossary of terms relating to thermal and thermomechanical properties of polymers (2013)

– Further terminology documents that might be published before the end of the project.

Jan 2014 – Project announcement published in Chem. Int. Jan-Feb 2014, p. 17; DOI: 10.1515/ci.2014.36.1.17b.


July 2016 update – The project was discussed extensively at the last SPT meeting in Istanbul (July 2016) by the team present. The discussion initially centred on the length of the document (2 pages or 4) and a decision was made to return to the initial target of two pages due to its acceptability in the target audience (students, editors and authors of scientific paper seeking a stepping stone in to IUPAC polymer terminology, etc.). The first page of the manuscript was thus edited down.

Since the meeting a complete listing of possible terms for inclusion into the document has been made. It is expected that a draft of one complete page, along with a redacted list of entries and suggested longer text for the second page will be presented to the task group in Brazil for deliberation and further editing. It is expected that the final draft will be presented in Cairns at the Macro 2018 SPT meeting for consideration by the task group in preparation for approval by SPT and submission for review.


July 2020 update – The task group met in Paris 2019 and worked through the first half of the document around the comments and corrections made by Prof. Jones. The group then discussed the generalities of the latter half of the document, it being now near complete. After debate over a period of four years, it was strongly agreed by the group that the document would adhere to its two page limit, Four pages is simply too long for it to be called ‘Brief’, and would lead to a document which would “hide” the links to the main source documents (the second aim of the project, after providing a brief synopsis of the most commonly used terms). The document as then left in Roger’s hands to work on in the coming year and to hand out a revised version prior to the next meeting.

Last update: 28 July 2020