October 15, 2014

Quiz Bowl: Sentence Structure

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 12:45 pm
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One of the challenges for medical editors is to synthesize a great deal of information into clear, readable prose. To accomplish this task, we often have to wade through a murky bog of confusing comparisons, run-on sentences, or large amounts of data. We must tread lightly so as not to distort the meaning of the text or the accuracy of the data, but tread we must.

This month’s style quiz gives users the opportunity to practice their editing skills in a more substantive manner. The quiz provides 6 examples of convoluted text that require a fine editorial hand. The following is one example from the quiz:

Adolescent participants (aged 13-17 years) were recruited from 9 pediatric and family medicine clinics located in 3 urban areas in Washington State in the Group Health system from April 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011, that were selected because of their greater patient diversity and higher number of adolescent patients.

Highlight for answer:

Adolescent participants (aged 13-17 years) were recruited from 9 pediatric and family medicine clinics in the Group Health system from April 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011. Clinics located in 3 urban areas in Washington State were selected for their greater patient diversity and higher number of adolescent patients.

Obviously, there are numerous ways to edit the original sentence. We provide just one example of many. Perhaps you found an even better way; if so, leave us a comment.

If you’re interested in more practice, check out the full quiz on the AMA Manual of Style website.—Laura King, MA, ELS

September 22, 2014


Filed under: punctuation,statistics — amastyleinsider @ 12:14 pm

To pass the time between stylebook editions, the JAMA Network staff keep an in-house file of little tips, tricks, guidelines, and style changes that have occurred since the last time the manual was published. Here is a small peek inside that file—2 things from this past summer.

The terms multivariable and multivariate are not synonymous, as the entries in the Glossary of Statistical Terms suggest (Chapter 20.9, page 881 in the print). To be accurate, multivariable refers to multiple predictors (independent variables) for a single outcome (dependent variable). Multivariate refers to 1 or more independent variables for multiple outcomes. (This update was implemented June 1, 2014.)

Cross-section, as a verb or adjective should be capped in titles as Cross-section; cross section as a noun should be capped in titles as Cross Section. (This update was implemented August 4, 2014).—Brenda Gregoline, with help from John McFadden

July 24, 2014

Lies and Statistics

Filed under: statistics — amastyleinsider @ 12:44 pm
Tags: , ,

Check out this post from Skeptical Scalpel about uncool tricks with statistical graphs. Editors beware!—Brenda Gregoline, ELS



July 1, 2014

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 10:38 am
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Q: I note in the manual that you do not require the use of the registered trademark symbol with brand names, as long as an initial capital letter is used (see 5.6.16, Use of Trademark Names in Publication).  Does this guideline apply to copy in medical books as well as medical journals?

A:  You are right that our manual does not encourage the use of the little “R” in a circle or the superscript TM to denote trademarks but rather relies on the initial cap to signify a trademark. As to what style would apply to books (medical or other), it really all comes down to what style the book publisher uses. The Chicago Manual of Style (section 8.152) states: “Although the symbols [cap R in a circle and superscript TM] for registered and unregistered trademarks, respectively) often accompany trademark names on product packaging and in promotional material, there is no legal requirement to use these symbols, and they should be omitted wherever possible.”

I think you would be fairly safe in zapping the symbol and just using the initial cap, unless the style guide you are following in editing a book dictates otherwise.

Q: What do you recommend re capitalization for something like the word “test” or “examination” or “questionnaire” in names of specific tests, examinations, or questionnaires?

A: Our style manual (section 10.3.8) advises the following regarding capping the “t” on “test” when it follows the name of a specific test. I would extrapolate from this to cover similar questions.

Tests.  The exact and complete titles of tests and subscales of tests should be capitalized.  The word test is not usually capitalized except when it is part of the official name of the test.  Always verify exact names of any tests with the author or with reference sources.

Examples where a cap would be correct include the Mini-Mental State Examination and the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

June 11, 2014

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 9:47 am
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Q: My colleagues and I are debating the correctness of the following sentence:  If any of the side effects gets serious, contact the study doctor.

A: If you remove the words “of the” from your sentence, you will find the answer(s) readily apparent. If there is one side effect, you’d use the singular:  “If any side effect becomes serious….”  If there is more than one side effect, you’d use the plural:  If any side effects become serious….”

Q: Should “week” or “weeks” be used in the following sentences?

 The changes in serum creatinine remained stable from week/weeks 48 to 96.

Nausea typically develops between the fourth and sixth week/weeks of pregnancy.

A: We would suggest using “weeks” in both examples. It would, of course, not be incorrect to repeat “week,” eg, “…at week 48 and week 96,” but for efficiency you could use “…at weeks 48 and 96.”—Cheryl Iverson, MA

May 27, 2014

Quiz Bowl: Editing and Proofreading Marks

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 10:41 am
Tags: , ,

tr, swk, wf, lc.

No, the vowel keys haven’t fallen off my laptop keyboard. Those are just a few examples from this month’s quiz on editing and proofreading marks. Although most editing and proofreading are now performed electronically, corrections still sometimes need to be marked on printed manuscripts and typeset copy. Because of this, editors need to be able to identify and use correct editing and proofreading marks.

Although most editors are familiar with marks such as stet, for let it stand, and Au?, for author query, some of the other editing and proofreading marks can occasionally cause confusion. This month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz offers a sampling of these marks to test your knowledge.

Included in the quiz are the meanings of the vowelless list above: tr, swk, wf, lc.

Highlight for the meanings of these marks: tr, transpose; swk, set when known; wf, wrong font; lc, lowercase.

To test your knowledge of additional editing and proofreading marks, check out this month’s quiz at—Laura King, MA, ELS

May 13, 2014

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 1:49 pm
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Q: I cannot find anything in the AMA Manual of Style about how to cite an article in a magazine. Please help.

A: You are correct that we do not address citations to magazines, primarily because the material we focus on is more scholarly. However, you could extrapolate from the information on how to cite a journal article (see section 3.11). Here is an example of citation of a magazine article:

Angell R. This old man: life in the nineties. New Yorker. February 17&24, 2014:60-65.

You’ll notice that although we prefer giving the year;volume number(issue number):inclusive pages in our citations to journal articles, some magazines do not use volume and issue numbers but instead rely on the issue date. This seems to be true of the New Yorker, and this article was in a double issue, so you’ll see that I have suggested using issue date:inclusive page numbers.

Q: What is the best way to send a question to you regarding the content of the style manual?

A: You may write to the style manual at

Q: For package insert references, many times the manufacturer and marketing company are the same. However, if they are not, which company should be listed in the reference citation?

A: It might be helpful in the case of a manufacturer and a marketer to list both. In this case, you could separate them by a semicolon:

Onglyza [package insert]. Princeton, NJ: Bristol-Myers Squibb Co; Wilmington, DE: AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP; July 2009.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

April 21, 2014

Quiz Bowl: Editing Prose

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 10:39 am
Tags: , ,

You asked and we listened! This month’s style quiz once again gives users the chance to practice their editing skills in a more in-depth manner. Previous quizzes on prose editing, as well as editing figures and tables, aimed to fill this need, but you still want more. So, here you go.

This month’s quiz is a full paragraph that requires editing to eliminate usage and style errors. Below is the first sentence of the paragraph. See if you can identify the problems.

We report a young patient who presented with dysphagia caused by a right aortic arch, aberrant left subclavian artery, and associated Kommerell’s diverticulum.

Highlight for answer:  We describe a young patient who presented with dysphagia caused by a right aortic arch, aberrant left subclavian artery, and associated Kommerell diverticulum.

According to the AMA Manual of Style, both patients and cases are described; only cases are reported (§11.1, Correct and Preferred Usage of Common Words and Phrases, pp 381-405 in print). In addition, the nonpossessive form should be used for eponymous terms (§16.2, Nonpossessive Form, pp 778-780 in print).

If you’re interested in more practice, check out the full quiz, as well as the Prose Editing 1, Practice Editing Tables, and Figures quizzes, on the AMA Manual of Style website.

And if there are any other quizzes you want to see, just ask. We promise we’ll listen.—Laura King, MA, ELS

April 11, 2014

Looking It Up: 2 Perspectives

Filed under: meta-blog — amastyleinsider @ 10:58 am

When I was in high school, I liked to do my homework at the kitchen table.  Invariably I’d come across a word that I wasn’t 100% sure I understood or, even more often, a word for which I wasn’t 100% sure of the spelling.  Mom was close at hand in the kitchen, so she was my first resource.  Handy and reliable too.  After I’d asked her about 3 questions, she’d say, “Why don’t you go look it up?”  Not as convenient, but I knew when I’d reached my mom’s limit!

Recently I asked a friend of mine with 2 grown children if there were any oft-repeated words of wisdom she remembered offering her kids as they were growing up.  One of the first things she remembered was “Don’t guess.  Look it up.”  Of course, she’s a librarian, so this is an answer designed to foster good research habits in later life…as well as reserve a few moments of peace and quiet for one’s own pursuits.

Now here we are in a time when the encyclopedia salesperson no longer makes house calls, trying to sell a many-volume set of hardcover books.  Instead, we have the smartphone.  Now, looking it up is a snap.  In fact, it’s almost an addiction.—Cheryl Iverson, MA


I have a “tween” daughter who is interested in sports, Minecraft, YouTube, wildlife conservation, and believing that she knows everything—not necessarily in that order. If I had been a parent 20 years ago, I might have been able to let the dubious or improbable-sounding facts she spouts off during breakfast slide by with a murmured, motherly, “mmmmm.” I might have been able to respond to questions about why Pluto is no longer a planet, how much would it cost to fly from Chicago to Ulaanbataar, or what is the total length of stretched-out human intestines with “I don’t know” or “Go look it up.”

But I am lucky enough to be a tech-connected parent in 2014, and I can know! The phone is in my pocket, the iPad is on the counter, the desktop is steps away! We can look it up together! (Short answers for the curious: too small, orbit too irregular; about $4000 for the 3 of us; and between 15 and 30 feet, depending on your anatomy.) Along the way, I have managed to sneak in a few meta-lessons to my daughter about critical thinking and what constitutes trustworthy information on the internet. You can’t believe everything you read!

Deciding on “screen time” allowances, finding the balance between work and home, and remembering never to put pixels over people are things we all have to navigate. But I have to admit that our “no devices at the dinner table” rule has a “let’s look it up” loophole—ready access to knowledge has solved arguments, taught us new facts, and livened up many a family conversation.— Brenda Gregoline

March 19, 2014

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 2:41 pm
Tags: ,

Q: Do superscript reference numbers go before or after colons? What about periods and commas?

A: Superscript reference numbers go before colons and semicolons and after commas and periods. See section 3.6.

Q: When will the next edition of the AMA Manual of Style be published?

A: We have begun work on the next (11th) edition but do not yet have a projected publication date. I think 2016 is realistic. In the meantime, I hope you avail yourself of the online updates, which provide policy changes, etc. Those are free, if you do not have an online subscription. The monthly quizzes (which are free to subscribers) are also a good way (between editions) to see more examples.

Q: On PowerPoint slides, how do you recommend citing reference sources: on each slide that is not the presenter’s own, or at the end of the presentation?

A: At present, our style manual does not address style questions related to PowerPoint presentations; however, we are considering adding a few guidelines on this in the next edition. For now, I would suggest adding the reference sources on each slide, as a footer. Because the slides are likely to be pulled apart from the entire presentation and used by others, having the source with the content seems advisable.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

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