Quiz Bowl: Comma

“Let’s eat Grandpa.”

“Turkeys gobble Grandma.”

“She finds inspiration in cooking her grandchildren and her dog.”

As the saying goes, “Commas save lives!” Just the simple addition of commas to the above sentences and Grandpa, Grandma, the grandchildren, and even the family dog are all free to live another day.

“Let’s eat, Grandpa.”

“Turkeys gobble, Grandma.”

“She finds inspiration in cooking, her grandchildren, and her dog.”

In an effort to end the scourge of comma-related fatalities, this month’s Style Quiz addresses the use of the comma.

Edit the following sentence based on your understanding of section 8.2 of the AMA Manual of Style.

The investigators performed a double-blind placebo-controlled patient-initiated 2-armed parallel clinical trial.

Highlight the text box for the answer: The investigators performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled, patient-initiated, 2-armed, parallel clinical trial.

In a simple coordinate series of 3 or more terms, separate the elements by commas (§8.2.1, Comma, Series, pp 337-338 in print).

If, like us at the AMA Manual of Style, you are determined to play a role in ending the epidemic of flagrant and dangerous comma misuse, check out the full quiz at www.amamanualofstyle.com.—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Forward Slash


Thanks to an astute reader (gold star for Regina Scaringella) who noticed that our use of the forward slash in patient/physician relationship contradicted page 345 of the stylebook, we have revised this post. The following terms are correct: obstetrics/gynecology and patient-physician. (updated 2/3/14)

It should be easy, right? The use of the forward slash, that is. However, every time I encounter a forward slash in a manuscript, I know I’m headed for a fight. It’s me against the sinister solidus. Is it obstetrics/gynecology, obstetrics-gynecology, or obstetrics and gynecology? Is it male/female ratio, male-female ratio, or male to female ratio? I won’t let it defeat me! I shall tame the villainous virgule, and you can too. Below are 2 examples from this month’s Style Quiz that will help you fight the forward slash foe.

Edit the following sentences for appropriate usage of the forward slash based on your understanding of section 8.4 of the AMA Manual of Style.

The male/female ratio was 2/1.

Use your mouse to highlight the text box for the answer: The male to female ratio was 2:1.

Although a forward slash may be used to express a ratio (eg, the male/female ratio was 2/1), the preferred style is to use a colon to express ratios that involve numbers or abbreviations (the Apo B:Apo A-I ratio was 2:1) and the word to to express ratios that involve words (the male to female ratio) (§8.4.5, In Ratios, p 354 in print; see also §8.2.3, Colon, Numbers, p 342).

But what about that pesky relationship between obstetrics and gynecology? Maybe this will help.

The study examined academic performance in undergraduate obstetrics/gynecology clinical rotations. to achieve an effective patient/physician relationship was a top discussion priority at the annual meeting.

This example is correct as is. When 2 terms are of equal weight in an expression and and is implied between them to express this equivalence, the forward slash can be retained (§8.4.1, Used to Express Equivalence or Duality, pp 353-354 in print).

We hope these examples have helped arm you in the battle for mastery over the forward slash. If not, the full quiz (available to subscribers at www.amamanualofstyle.com) provides more guidance on the formidable forward slash.—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Electronic References

From the publication of the first edition of the AMA Manual of Style in 1962 to the publication of the current 10th edition in 2007, the guidelines in the manual that have arguably evolved the most are those on references. From a world of print-only publications to today’s plethora of electronic sources, the changing landscape of what sources to cite and how to cite them has becoming increasingly complex. This month’s style quiz offers a sample of electronic references.

As an introduction to the full quiz, edit the following reference for an article published online head of print:

ZeniJ, Abujaber S, Flowers P, Pozzi F, Snyder-Mackler L. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Jul 25. [Epub ahead of print] Biofeedback to Promote Movement Symmetry After Total Knee Arthroplasty: A Feasibility Study. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4657

Highlight for the answer:

Zeni J, Abujaber S, Flowers P, Pozzi F, Snyder-Mackler L. Biofeedback to promote movement symmetry after total knee arthroplasty: a feasibility study [published online July 25, 2013]. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4657.

If an article is published online ahead of print publication, it may appear in 1 of 3 ways: (1) posted without editing; (2) edited and posted as it will appear in print, only ahead of the print publication (with or without print pagination); or (3) edited and posted as part of a specific issue of the journal. The date the article was published should be placed in brackets after the title and phrase as “published online” not “published online ahead of print” (§3.15.1, Online Journals, pp 64-67 in print).

The full quiz (available to subscribers at www.amamanualofstyle.com) provides examples of online articles, CD-ROMs, websites, software, databases, and more. Good luck!—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Radiology Terms

Do you know the difference between TE and TR? How about section and slice? And what exactly is an echo train? That’s right, this month we’re talking about radiology!

The AMA Manual of Style has a brief but informative section on radiology terms (§15.7.2). The section defines terms commonly used in radiology literature and offers instruction on how to use these terms correctly. Some of the terms addressed in the section are b value, k-space, echo time, and repetition time. The style quiz is a sample paragraph that contains commonly used radiology terms.

See if you can identify the problem(s) in the following sentences from this month’s quiz:

Twenty-four contiguous slices, each 2 mm thick, were acquired in an interleaved fashion. Radiologic slices were then examined for consistency of the hippocampal subfields from patient to patient.

Use your mouse to highlight the text box for the answer:

Twenty-four contiguous slices, each 2 mm thick, were acquired in an interleaved fashion. Radiologic sections were then examined for consistency of the hippocampal subfields from patient to patient.

The term section should be used to refer to a radiological image and slice to refer to a slice of tissue (eg, for histological examination).

That’s just a “slice” of what we have to offer in this month’s quiz. If you’re a subscriber, check out the complete quiz at www.amamanualofstyle.com.—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Practice Editing Tables

During the past 15 years I have been teaching classes in medical editing. Every year I hear the same question from my students: “How can we practice our editing skills?” It’s a difficult question to answer because usually editors learn their skills on the job. But what do you do if you’re trying to break into the editorial field or have moved from, say, an editorial assistant position to a manuscript editor position? This month’s quiz, entitled Practice Editing Tables, is a first step in helping editors gain editing practice. I have focused on editing tables in this quiz because this is often one of the most challenging tasks for both novice and seasoned editors to master.

Basically, this month’s style quiz is simply to edit a table. Therefore, we have no sample question for you to try. Instead, here’s a general question about tables for you to answer.

Formal tables in scientific articles conventionally contain 5 major elements. Can you name these 5 major elements? (Use your mouse to highlight the text box.)

title, column headings, stubs (row headings), body (data field) consisting of individual cells (data points), and footnotes

Each of these elements has various style and formatting recommendations that are described in detail in the AMA Manual of Style (§4.1.3).

As we continue to post more AMA Manual of Style quizzes on the website, we will strive to provide editors with an opportunity to practice their skills. If you are interested in more practice with tables, check out the Tables Quiz and the Creating Tables and Figures Quiz at http://www.amamanualofstyle.com—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Author-Editor Relationship

There have been some famous, even notorious, author-editor relationships: Charles Dickens and Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish. This month’s quiz takes us on a tour of some of these fruitful and fractious relationships as a means of exploring effective ways for editors to handle issues with authors. The following is an example from this month’s quiz.

Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, notoriously and wittily disdained editors. In a 1967 interview in The Paris Review, he said, “By ‘editor’ I suppose you mean proofreader. Among these I have known limpid creatures of limitless tact and tenderness who would discuss with me a semicolon as if it were a point of honor—which, indeed, a point of art often is. But I have also come across a few pompous avuncular brutes who would attempt to “make suggestions” which I countered with a thunderous ‘stet!’”1

What is the best way for editors to communicate with authors who balk at the suggestions made to improve the manuscript?

a. E-mail the author to tell him/her that all the edits are based on the AMA Manual of Style and therefore not subject to change.

b. Telephone the author to discuss the edits, iterating the rationale and providing resource support for the changes.

c. Do not respond to the author.

d. Eliminate all the edits and publish the paper as the author originally submitted it.

What would you do? Here’s our advice (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

Telephone the author to discuss the edits, iterating the rationale and providing resource support for the changes.

Usually, an author’s insistence to overrule all editorial changes is a knee-jerk reaction to extensive editing. Most authors are aware of the editing process, although some need to be guided gently through it. Communicating with the author and explaining the reason for the changes (as well as providing resource support when necessary) can often defuse a volatile situation.—Laura King, MA, ELS


  1. Gold H, interviewer. Vladimir Nabokov, The Art of Fiction No. 40. The Paris Review. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4310/the-art-of-fiction-no-40-vladimir-nabokov. Accessed February 8, 2013.

Quiz Bowl: Creating Tables and Figures

Have you ever been editing and suddenly experienced déjà-vu? You know, that feeling that you’ve read the material before. And I don’t mean several weeks or even days ago. I mean really recently. Don’t worry. You’re probably not suffering from posttraumatic editing syndrome. Often authors duplicate material by presenting it in both table and text forms. This is a no-no. As the AMA Manual of Style states, “The same data usually should not be duplicated in a table and a figure or in the text” (§4, Visual Presentation of Data, p 81 in print). Of course, some overlap is to be expected, but extensive duplication of data in tables and text is a waste of space and the reader’s time.

This month’s style quiz on creating tables and figures asks the user to create a figure and a table from text. There are only 2 exercises, so I’m not going to give 1 away here. Instead, here’s a bonus exercise for you to try.

Directions: Use the information in the following paragraph to create a table that can replace the text. Refer to section 4.1 of the AMA Manual of Style.

In a multivariable model of communication attributes associated with parental peace of mind (controlled for diagnostic category, time since diagnosis, child’s age, parent’s education, parent’s race/ethnicity, physician-rated prognosis, and degree of discrepancy between parent-rated and physician-rated prognosis; adjusted for clustering by physician), the odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) were as follows: 2.05 (1.14-3.70) for parent recalled receiving more extensive prognostic disclosure, 2.54 (1.11-5.79) for parent rated information received as high quality, and 6.65 (1.47-30.02) for parent had a greater sense of trust in physician.

Now, of course, there are several ways to reformat this sentence into a table, but here’s what we published (it was table 4 in this article). (Click for bigness.)


If you want more experience reformatting text into tables or figures, take this month’s quiz at www.amamanualofstyle.comLaura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Intellectual Property

Whenever I see the words intellectual property, I think of David Letterman. Remember when he left NBC for CBS, thus inciting an intellectual property firestorm? NBC claimed intellectual property rights on much of Letterman’s material, including Stupid Pet Tricks and the Top 10 List. The controversy even caused the fictional demise of Larry “Bud” Melman (also considered the intellectual property of NBC), although the actor who played the character of Larry “Bud” Melman (Calvert DeForest) continued with Letterman at CBS until he retired in 2002. Much comic fodder was made of this intellectual property brouhaha, mostly by Letterman himself. However, in publishing circles, intellectual property is serious business.

So, what exactly is intellectual property? The AMA Manual of Style writes,

Intellectual property is a legal term for that which results from the creative efforts of the mind (intellectual) and that which can be owned, possessed, and subject to competing claims (property). Three legal doctrines governing intellectual property are relevant for authors, editors, and publishers in biomedical publishing: copyright (the law protecting authorship and publication), patent (the law protecting invention and technology), and trademark (the law protecting words and symbols used to identify goods and services in the marketplace).

This month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz offers multiple-choice questions on intellectual property. Test your knowledge by responding to the following question from this month’s quiz:

A scientist develops data while working at Harvard University. He then moves to Stanford University, where he publishes an article using the original data in JAMA. Who owns the data?

  1. Harvard University
  2. Stanford University
  3. Scientist
  4. JAMA

What do you think? Do the data belong to the scientist, one of the academic institutions, or the publishing journal? Use your mouse to highlight the text box for the answer:

Harvard University

In scientific research, 3 primary arenas exist for ownership of data: the government, the commercial sector, and academic or private institutions or foundations. Although an infrequent occurrence, when data are developed by a scientist without a relationship to a government agency, a commercial entity, or an academic institution, the data are owned by that scientist. Any information produced by an office or employee of the a government agency in the course of his or her employment is owned by the government. Data produced by employees in the commercial sector (eg, a pharmaceutical, device, or biotechnology company, health insurance company, or for-profit hospital or managed care organization) are most often governed by the legal relationship between the employee and the commercial employer, granting all rights of data ownership and control to the employer. According to guidelines established by Harvard University in 1988 and subsequently adopted by other US academic institutions, data developed by employees of academic institutions are owned by the institutions (§5.6.1, Ownership and Control of Data, pp 179-183 in print).

So, when Letterman packed his bags and moved to CBS, he was legally required to leave some of his property behind because it was owned by NBC. Similarly, when authors leave their academic institutions, they are usually required to relinquish the results of the work they performed during their employment.—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Articles

Once again it’s time for a historic Quiz Bowl. Okay, maybe historic is a bit much, but I’m trying to make a point here. The point has to do with the subject of this month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz—articles. Is it a historic or an historic Quiz Bowl? Did you guess a historic? If so, you’re right. The article a is used before the aspirate h (eg, a historic occasion) and nonvocalic y (eg, a ubiquitous organism) (§11.9, Articles, p 412 in print).

Try another example from this month’s quiz.

The physician told that patient that he should have a/an ultrasound examination performed.

Here’s a hint. Sometimes it helps to read the sentence aloud.

The answer is as follows (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

The physician told that patient that he should have an ultrasound examination performed.

Words beginning with vowels are preceded by a or an according to the sound following (in this case, the u sound) (§11.9, Articles, p 412 in print).

Sound plays an important role in determining whether to use a or an. Test your skills by taking the full Articles Quiz on the AMA Manual of Style online. It will be a (or is that an?) unique experience.—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Anatomy

Quiz Bowl is back! After a much need summer hiatus (much needed on my part, not sure how you guys feel about the matter), the games continue with a quiz on anatomy. Hmmm, maybe I should rephrase that. Make that with a quiz on anatomy terms. Hmmm, that’s medical terms, not the kind you see scribbled on the bathroom wall. Now that that’s cleared up, let’s get to the question.

Edit the following sentence to conform to the AMA Manual of Style guidelines on anatomical terms (§11.6, Anatomy, p 410 in print).

The investigators examined catheter-induced lesions of the right heart.

Any ideas? Consider the term right heart. Here’s the answer (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

The investigators examined catheter-induced lesions of the right side of the heart

Although some animals have more than 1 heart (the octopus, the earthworm, the cockroach), people only have 1 heart. Authors often err in referring to anatomical regions or structures as the “right heart,” “left chest,” “left neck,” and “right brain.” The terms right and left imply 2 different structures. Generally these terms can be corrected by inserting a phrase such as “part of the” or “side of the.”

Want to learn more? Take the full Anatomy Quiz on the AMA Manual of Style online. See you next month!—Laura King, MA, ELS