“Comprised of” should never exist in formal writing.  Arguably, the construction is used so much now that sooner or later, style guides will accept it, but not yet.

First, some background. Per the Cambridge Dictionary, Comprise means “to consist of or to be made up of”; i.e., it is the whole.  Compose, sometimes the better alternative, means “to form or make up something [from multiple parts or components].” In a sentence, moving from the whole to the parts uses comprise, while moving from the parts to the whole uses compose.  Example: “The team comprises ten members,” but “Ten members compose the team.”

In the following sentence, try replacing comprised with its synonym contained:

*The experiment was comprised of steps A, B, and C. = *The experiment was contained of steps A, B, and C.

You’d never use the second one, so don’t use the first.

You can rewrite the sentence as “The experiment was composed of steps A, B, and C.”  This is okay, but gets into another problem—passive voice. (Watch for a blog on that soon.)  In this case, because the sentence leads with the whole and ends with the parts, comprised is in fact the best option; it just needs to stand alone. “The experiment comprised steps A, B, and C.”

Use the comprise/compose pair correctly for your writing to comprise clarity and readability.

Related Resources:

Tips for Writing Scientific Manuscripts

Paper-Writing Checklists to Prevent Headaches Down the Road

Top Ten Productivity Tips for More Productive Writing, Revising & Editing

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