December 4, 2013

Ex Libris: Dangerous Admissions

Filed under: ex libris — amastyleinsider @ 11:55 am

How many of you have let your mind wander while editing that difficult genetics manuscript to imagine yourself in a whole new role? Of course, you’d never lose the skills that make you a diligent and gifted editor, but you’d put those skills to more glamorous use. Maybe you daydream of being a Nellie Bly–style reporter, going undercover to reveal corruption at insane asylums. Maybe a witty Nora Ephronesque screenwriter, penning romantic comedies to popular acclaim. Maybe even an adventuresome explorer such as Isabella Bird, chronicling her travels through the Sandwich Islands. If you are an editor prone to flights of fancy, then Dangerous Admissions: Secrets of a Closet Sleuth by Jane O’Connor is the book for you.

Jane O’Connor, author of the popular children’s series Fancy Nancy, has created a heroine for editors who long for adventure—Miranda “Rannie” (rhymes with Annie) Bookman. Rannie has been fired from her job as executive managing editor at Simon and Schuster for approving a print run of 5000 copies of a collector’s edition of the first Nancy Drew book—The Secret of the Old Clock. The only problem is the missing lowercase “l” from the last word of the book title. Heads rolled, and Rannie was forced to roll out the door, thus beginning a less than satisfying career as a freelance editor.

As all freelancers know, you take work where and when you can get it. Rannie is editing a book on Josef Mengele, chief physician at Auschwitz, for $40 per hour and giving tours of her children’s exclusive private school, the Chapel School (Chaps), to make ends meet. She appreciates having the work, but she feels “untethered, superfluous, a forty-three-year-old dangling participle.” Rannie is a woman with a high IQ, a fertile imagination, and too much time on her hands. Therefore, when the (mostly) beloved director of college admissions, A. Lawrence Tutwiler (Mr Tut), is found dead in his office at Chaps and Rannie’s son Nate becomes a suspect, Rannie fills her spare time by investigating the murder.

Dangerous Admissions chronicles Rannie’s encounters with several murder suspects: Chaps student Olivia Werner and her troubled brother Grant, school bully Elliot Ross and his well-connected father David, English teacher Augusta Hollins, and new Chaps headmaster Jonathan Marshall. She encounters romance along the way with fellow Chaps parent Tim Butler. Traveling alongside Rannie as she unravels the mystery  of Mr Tut’s murder is a fast-paced and fun joyride, but for editors the real treat is how Rannie uses her editorial skills to successfully solve the mystery.

The novel is peppered with details that will engage any editor, freelance or full time. Rannie has a proofreader’s eye, quickly noticing misspellings on menus (“You think maybe I should tell them their menu offers ‘French fires’ and ‘dally specials’?”).  She can spot a verbal phrase dangler at 50 paces (“‘Growing up in California, New York was always my dream,’ he stated, Rannie mentally wincing. . . . New York hadn’t grown up in California, he had.”).  She has a mastery of those tricky “-ly” words, cringing at the misuse of the terms badly (“Bad. You felt bad. If you have a defective sense of touch, then you feel badly.”) and really (“A moment later Rannie stood, attempting to convince herself he wasn’t that attractive and taking note of his use of ‘real’ instead of ‘really’. . .). She even knows her who from her whom (“‘Whom shall I say is calling?’ ‘Who’ not ‘whom’ the grammar cop, never off duty, silently corrected.”). Even when she’s cornered by the killer, her mind flits to correcting his use of the word different (“‘Differently,’ her inner copy editor ludicrously insisted.”).  It’s these particulars that make the book such an enjoyable read for editors.

The only quibble I have is the few typos and usage errors that appear in the book. For example, the word psych is misspelled as pysche and psycho as pyscho. In addition, a character foregoes a cigarette rather than forgoes a cigarette. Normally, such minor errors could be easily overlooked, but in a story that hinges on the abilities of an eagle-eyed editor, these errors cause the reader to disengage. As Rannie herself says, “Hotshot editors with fat Rolodexes and expense accounts might dismiss proofreaders as punctuation-obsessed fussbudgets, gnashing their teeth over split infinitives. But reading was such a crazy process when you thought about it. At some point you stopped being aware that you were decoding squiggles printed in black ink on white paper. Suddenly you entered another world. It was all an illusion, and misspellings, inconsistencies, anachronisms, wrong dates—whatever—wrecked the illusion.”

It’s Rannie’s editorial eye and attention to detail that lead her to solve the mystery of Mr Tut’s murder. She does it all armed with only her swift mind and Col-Erase blue pencil. (And let me tell you, that blue pencil really comes in handy!) She’s a heroine all editors who’ve dreamed of adventure can get behind. So, if you’re looking for a distraction from that genetics manuscript, pick up a copy of Dangerous Admissions and let the daydreaming begin.—Laura King, MA, ELS

November 25, 2013

Non-Human Users of the Manual

Filed under: meta-blog — amastyleinsider @ 3:34 pm

Okay, perhaps he’s not “using” the AMA Manual of Style, but he’s certainly looking very handsome near several editions of it! I’d say he was “gobbling” up style advice, but that might make you want to stab yourself in the eye with the Manual’s sharp corner. And yet I said it anyway. Happy Thanksgiving!

Connie does yoga in the office 03-02-11

This is Conrad, a wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) befriended by Melissa L. Bogen, ELS. This is the second time we’ve featured a pet with the Manual. Should it become a theme?—Brenda Gregoline, ELS

November 19, 2013

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 3:37 pm
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Q: How do you create a “thin space” in Word?

A: In Word, use the shortcut to the ¼ em space character under Insert/Symbol/Special Characters. The Unicode value for the ¼ em space is 2005, and it’s in the General Punctuation section of any Unicode font. The 1/6 em space is also used as a thin space; the Unicode value for that is 2006, and it’s also in the General Punctuation section of any Unicode font.

Q: Is it necessary to include http:// in a URL? What about http://www.? I like to avoid long strings for URLs and if it’s OK to shorten them, that’s what I’d like to do. 

A: The http:// in the URL is only necessary in text to ensure that the reader knows that the information provided is a website. If that information is clear from the context without http://, it is not necessary. To know whether www is necessary or not, you should try the URL without it. Some URLs require the www, while others will not work if www is added. To ensure that the URL is correct, you should check it on the Internet.

Q: Can you please tell me how many journals use the AMA Manual of Style?  Does a list of these journals exist?

A: I don’t have the data you request…and I’d certainly be interested myself. I can tell you that we’ve  sold  almost 30,000 copies of the print book, in addition to site licenses and individual subscriptions to the online book. Although this doesn’t answer your question precisely, the number of copies sold might be of some help.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

November 4, 2013

Quiz Bowl: Electronic References

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 9:57 am

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 provides examples of online articles, CD-ROMs, websites, software, databases, and more. Good luck!—Laura King, MA, ELS

October 23, 2013

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 9:48 am
Tags: , ,

Q: How should columns with mixed units of measure indicate the unit of measure?

A: In a table with mixed units throughout, use a table footnote for the most common unit of measure, eg, “Unless otherwise indicated, data are expressed as number (percentage).” and specify in the stub or column head only those units that are different. In a table with mixed units in a single column, use the most common unit in the column head and only provide another unit in the table cell for those entries that have a different unit of measure.

Q: Because of the change from the 9th to the 10th edition in the way number and percentage are handled in running text (see page 832 in the 10th edition), should column headings in tables also be changed to read, for example, “No. of Girls (%)” rather than “No. (%) of Girls”?

A: No. The style “No. (%) of Girls” is still an acceptable table column head as here both “number” and “percentage” apply to “of girls,” whereas in the example on p 832, the percentage is given as more of an aside to the numerator and denominator and hence follows: “Death occurred in 6 of 200 patients (3%).”

Q: What recommendations do you have for the preferred typeface of a punctuation mark that follows copy set in something other than roman type?

A: Some specific recommendations are outlined below:

• If an entire sentence is set in a typeface other than roman (eg, italic, bold), any punctuation in that sentence would take the typeface of the rest of the sentence.

• If part of a sentence is set in a typeface other than roman, even if it’s the end of the sentence, the ending punctuation would be roman.

• For heads, sideheads, entries in a glossary, the punctuation would follow that of the preceding word (so, in Correct and Preferred Usage of Common Words and Phrases, the commas between the word pairs are boldface, like the words).

• For parentheses and brackets, unless the entire sentence is set in a typeface other than roman, the parentheses or brackets are roman (see the example with “[sic]” on p 358).—Cheryl Iverson, MA


October 8, 2013

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 11:55 am
Tags: , ,

Q: If there is a column for P values in a table and if a P value “straddles” rows (eg, provides the P value for men vs women), how should this be shown?

A: There are several options, with option 1 being preferred:

1. Center the P value between the items it compares (eg, between the values for men and women) and consider the use of a side brace.

2. If only 2 items are being compared, list the P value on the line giving the overall category (eg, Sex).

3. Use footnotes to indicate the P value for items being compared (eg, use a superscript “a” next to the value for men and the value for women and indicate the P value for this comparison in a footnote labeled “a”).

Q: If some of the confidence intervals given in a table column include negative values, how do you combine the minus sign and the hyphen that would normally be used in such a range in a table?

A: With ranges that include a minus sign, use to to express the range, rather than a hyphen. Carry this style throughout the entire table, even for those values that do not include a minus sign.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

September 17, 2013

Quiz Bowl: Radiology Terms

Filed under: quizzes,radiology — amastyleinsider @ 10:46 am
Tags: , ,

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—Laura King, MA, ELS

September 5, 2013

Questions from Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 11:03 am
Tags: , ,

Q: I’ve been searching the 10th edition to see where the list of footnote symbols from the previous edition is given and I cannot find it. Is that because the lowercase alphabet letters are now going to replace these symbols, as mentioned on page 91?

A: Yes, almost right. We have changed our policy on using superscript symbols for table footnotes and are now using superscript lowercase letters. There are more of them and they are not so “odd.” However, we are continuing to use the old “footnote symbols” for bottom-of-the-page footnotes (see p 43). We only show 2 here…the asterisk and the dagger…because it is not likely that more would be needed (this is the only type of bottom-of-page footnotes that we use in our journals), but if you were to require more, the “old” list would still apply.

Q: I haven’t been able to locate in the 10th edition the place where it says that the symbols “greater than” and “less than” should not be used in running text. (It’s at the top of p 256 in the ninth edition.)

A: You are correct. We neglected to include that this time, but the policy is the same. The examples on page 399 illustrate this, but having the specific statement would be good. It’s a bit like the policy we have of reserving the use of the hyphen for ranges to within parentheses and in tables (and, of course, in references, for the page ranges) and not using it in running text (P values are another exception). It all has to do with “elegance.”—Cheryl Iverson, MA

August 21, 2013

Quiz Bowl: Practice Editing Tables

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 2:02 pm
Tags: , ,

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—Laura King, MA, ELS

August 7, 2013

Questions From Users of the Manual

Q: I understand that the second printing of the AMA Manual of Style is now available and that many of the items in the list of Errata on the companion website ( are corrected therein. How can I tell if I have the first or the second printing? Does the second printing have a different ISBN?

A: Yes, the second printing was published in October 2007 and in it the majority of errata listed on the companion website are corrected. You can tell which printing you have by looking at the copyright page of the book (p iv). In the lower left corner of that page is a string of numbers, beginning, on the left, with 9. The number on the far right of that string will indicate the number of the printing. If the last number on the right is a 2, you have the second printing. The ISBN does not change with printings.

Q: Which is correct: “Qvar has similar systemic effects to those of fluticasone” or “Qvar has similar systemic effects as those of fluticasone”?

A: The correct idiomatic form is “similar…to” not “similar…as,” as with “identical…to” rather than “identical…as.” I suspect the use of “as” in this construction comes from a related idiom: “the same as.” You could also rephrase this to “Qvar and fluticasone have similar systemic effects.” or “Qvar has systemic effects similar to those of fluticasone.”

Q: Has the policy on SI units changed? If so, how?

A: Yes. These changes are addressed in detail in section 18.5.10. For laboratory values reported in JAMA Network Journals, factors for converting conventional units to SI units should be provided in the article. In text, the conversion factor should be given once, at first mention of the laboratory value, in parentheses following the conventional unit.

The blood glucose concentration of 126 mg/dL (to convert to millimoles per liter, multiply by 0.055) was used as a criterion for diagnosing diabetes.

For articles in which several laboratory values are reported in the text, the conversion factors may be provided in a paragraph at the end of the “Methods” section. In tables and figures, this information can be provided in the footnote or legend.

Q: Although the 10th edition recommends spelling out state names except in full addresses and the reference list (for location of publishers), I notice that you still show “DC” for District of Columbia. Is this an exception?

A: Yes.

Q: If a state’s full name is spelled out on first mention in running text, per the new style, what do you do when numerous cities in the same state are mentioned in an article? Should the state name be spelled out every time it is mentioned, every time a new city is mentioned, or should the 2-letter postal code be used after the first time the state name is spelled out in running text?

A: The answer will depend on the context. If the article is about cities in a particular state, you might not need to include the state name with the individual cities at all, as it will be clear what the state is, eg, “6 cities in Massachusetts.” If the state name is spelled out at the first mention of each new city, it shouldn’t need to be repeated, unless there are instances in the manuscript of a city that exists in more than 1 state (eg, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Springfield, Illinois).—Cheryl Iverson, MA

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