amastyleinsider

January 8, 2013

Ex Libris: Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know

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Last month’s Ex Libris column reviewed Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, the first in a series of 4 titles in the 101 Words series by Grammar Girl alter ego Mignon Fogarty (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/). This month’s column reviews Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know. Just as Grammar Girl soared to the aid of grammarians in their quest to avoid misusing commonly confused words, so too does she come to the rescue of recent high school graduates (and those not so recent graduates) who want to appear educated and erudite. As Fogarty writes in her introduction, “You may or may not have been taught these words in high school, but they’ll serve you well from here on out. Use them in your college entrance essays or during job interviews to show that you’re well-read and well-spoken.”

Although this book could easily have become 1001 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know, Fogarty wisely narrows her list to 4 to 6 words from each letter of the alphabet from a variety of disciplines (eg, politics, science, and economics). As with 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know is a fun-to-read and easy-to-use paperback that is formatted as a glossary, with words arranged alphabetically and most entries only 1-page long. Each entry includes a quotation illustrating the correct usage of the word in question from such historical and cultural icons as Harry Truman, Andy Warhol, and Homer Simpson. For example, in the entry on Tenacious, Fogarty quotes the Belgian philosopher Paul De Man, “Metaphors are much more tenacious than facts.”

For users of the AMA Manual of Style, a few entries are particularly useful because they directly relate to the guidelines outlined in the manual (www.amamanualofstyle.com). For the term chronic, Fogarty writes, “In medicine, the opposite of a chronic disease (something that comes on slowly and will progress over a long time) is an acute disease (something that comes on suddenly, is severe, and is likely to end). For example, type II diabetes is a chronic condition and a stroke is an acute condition.” This supports the entry from the AMA Manual of Style, which states that the terms acute and chronic “are most often preferred for descriptions of symptoms, conditions, or diseases; they refer to duration, not severity.”

For the term malignant, Fogarty writes, “Malignant diseases and situations are aggressive, out of control, and dangerous. In medicine, only malignant tumors are called cancer; less invasive tumors are called benign.” In the AMA Manual of Style, the usage note for malignant reads, “When referring to a specific tumor, use malignant neoplasm or malignant tumor rather than malignancy. Malignancy refers to the quality of being malignant.”

Fogarty also defines the term correlation and provides the useful tip, “A common scientific phrase is correlation does not equal causation—a reminder that studies often find that events happen at the same time without proving that one causes the other.” This is similar to the AMA Manual of Style’s definition of the term correlation as the “description of the strength of an association among 2 or more variables, each of which has been sampled by means of a representative or naturalistic method from a population of interest. … There are many reasons why 2 variables may be correlated, and thus correlation alone does not prove causation.”

Finally, both Fogarty and the AMA Manual of Style describe the difference between the terms quantitative and qualitative. Fogarty writes, “People often confuse quantitative and qualitative, in part because qualitative results can be presented in ways that makes them look quantitative, for example, when researchers ask qualitative questions, but have subjects answer on numerical scales: How happy were you to see the dolphins? Answer on a scale from 1 to 10.” According to the AMA Manual of Style, qualitative data is “data that fit into discrete categories according to their attributes, such as nominal or ordinal data, as opposed to quantitative data,” which is “data in numerical quantities such as continuous data or counts (as opposed to qualitative data).”

Although Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know was written with a general audience in mind, much can be gained by the medical editor reader. Not only the entries on specific medical words but also the entries on general terms commonly encountered in scientific writing, such as ad hoc, epitome, jargon, kilometer, and mandate, are helpful for the editor.—Laura King, MA, ELS

December 18, 2012

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 2:53 pm
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Q: I have a question about biologic vs biological and physiologic and physiological. How do I know which version to use?

A: It may have been “hidden,” but the tricky “-ic/-ical” question is addressed in the manual on  page 396 (section 11.1). This section specifically addresses biologic/biological and physiologic/physiological, 2 pairs of words where the different endings may have a different meaning.

Q: In section 8.3.1, why do you show a hyphen in “The rash was a treatment-related adverse event.” but not in “The adverse event was treatement related.”?

A: The policy of hyphenating a compound when it  precedes the noun it modifies but not when it follows comes up in many examples in the Hyphens section of the manual. The rationale for this policy is based on easier comprehension. Much may precede and modify a noun. The use of hyphenation (as in “treatment-related adverse event”) helps make the relationships of the words that precede the noun clearer and easier for a reader to understand. In the case in which this word string follows the noun, the hyphenation is not required for easier understanding (“The adverse event was treatment related.”) You see this same logic in so many places:

It was a 5-cm distance.

The distance was 5 cm.

He was a well-known author.

The author was well known.

Q: Would it be acceptable to use bit.ly as a way to shorten URLs in references in a scientific article’s reference list?

A: Using bit.ly to shorten URLs in the reference list for a scientific article is probably not consistent with best practices. We do use bit.ly in our style manual tweets, to save space, but the reference list of a scientific article is a different matter. Use of the full URL allows readers to know the original domain name (like nih.gov). We are also not sure how permanently stable a shortened link would be.

NOTE:  The person who inquired noted:  “Regarding shortened URLs and transparency, there is one bright spot for people citing US government publications. The government created its own vanity bit.ly domain, 1.usa.gov.

http://gov20.govfresh.com/usa-gov-adds-1-go-usa-gov-url-shortener-for-civilian-use/.”—Cheryl Iverson, MA

 

December 12, 2012

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 12:40 pm
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Q: Does the change of footnote symbols from asterisk, dagger, etc (9th edition) to superscript lowercase letters (10th edition) apply not only to tables but also to the title page?

A: No, this change does not apply to the title page. Typically, the only footnotes used on the title page would be the “death dagger” (see section 2.3.2) and the asterisk at the end of the byline if the byline is the name of the group, not all members of which qualify for authorship (see p 15, bottom).

Q: In your information on databases, the link you provide for HUGO no longer links. Do you have the new URL?

A: Yes, since publication of the 10th edition of the manual, the URL for HUGO has changed. The new URL is http://www.genenames.org. We have included this in a new batch of errata posted on the companion website in January 2008 and it will be corrected in the third printing.

Q: In medical writing, is it preferred to spell naive with or without the umlaut over the i?

A: We would follow the latest edition of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. The 11th edition shows that both spellings are equally correct but, in such cases, to maintain uniformity among all the articles in our family of journals, we arbitrarily select the first spelling given: naive. Also, in the 10th edition of our manual (p 422), it indicates that “in general, English words in common usage should be spelled without the diacritical marks.”—Cheryl L. Iverson, MA

December 6, 2012

Quiz Bowl: Intellectual Property

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 2:59 pm
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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

November 27, 2012

Ex Libris: Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again

Filed under: ex libris — amastyleinsider @ 2:50 pm
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Up in the sky—look! It’s a giant bird! It’s a plane! It’s GRAMMAR GIRL!

Just as Superman flies to the rescue of the hapless citizens of Metropolis, Grammar Girl comes to the aid of the needy denizens of Grammarville. Have you met Grammar Girl yet? She’s part of a superhero team of experts from the Quick and Dirty Tips website. There’s Mighty Mommy, who offers practical parenting tips; the Math Dude, who strives to make math easier; the Nutrition Diva, who teaches you how to eat well and feel fabulous; and the Get-it-Done Guy, who offers tips on how to work less and do more. There are others in this Quick and Dirty Tips league, but I have to admit that Grammar Girl is my favorite. She fights the good grammar fight in a genial and humorous manner. She’s not brooding and aloof like Batman or flashy and self-satisfied like Wonder Woman. As her website states, “Her arch enemy is the evil Grammar Maven who inspires terror in the untrained and is neither friendly nor helpful.”

I have to admit that Grammar Girl has come to my rescue on numerous occasions. As an editor and teacher of editing, I often encounter grammatical conundrums. However, whenever I’m in a perilous grammatical situation, all I have to do is turn to Grammar Girl for help. She hasn’t let me down yet.

Just as Batman is really Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman is really Diana Prince, Grammar Girl’s true identity is Mignon Fogarty. Ms Fogarty is a former magazine and technical writer and the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network. She has a BA in English from the University of Washington and an MS in biology from Stanford University. Her weekly podcasts strive to help editors and writers communicate better. The top 5 tips listed on the website are as follows:

  1. Affect Versus Effect
  2. Why We Have Both “Color” and “Colour”
  3. First, Second, and Third Person
  4. Who Versus Whom
  5. Lay Versus Lie

Because I’ve relied on the Grammar Girl podcasts for several years how, I decided to check out some of Ms Fogarty’s published books as well. (I know, how “old school.”)

Her first audiobook, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Clean Up Your Writing, was published in 2007 and was named 1 of the top 5 audiobooks of that year by iTunes. In July 2008, Fogarty’s first paperback book, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, was published and hit the bestseller list in August 2008. Her second paperback book, The Grammar Devotional, was published in October 2009. In July 2011, Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students was released. Also in July 2011, St Martin’s Press released the first 2 books in a series of 4 books (so far) in the Grammar Girl’s 101 series: Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know and Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, which were followed by Grammar Girl’s 101 Words to Sound Smart (in November 2011) and Grammar Girl’s 101 Troublesome Words You’ll Master in No Time (July 2012). It was this 101 series that caught my eye.

This first entry in the AMA Style Insider Ex Libris column deals with Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again, with subsequent Ex Libris columns addressing the other 3 titles in the series. 101 Misused Words is an engaging, easy-to-use paperback book that deals with commonly confused words. The book is formatted as a glossary, with words arranged alphabetically and most entries only 1 page long. Most entries conclude with a Quick and Dirty Tip on usage. For example, for the entry on Foreword versus Forward, the Quick and Dirty Tip states, “Books contain words, and the spelling of the type of foreword you see in books ends with word.” Interspersed on the pages are literary, film, and pop culture quotations containing the words in question. For example, in the entry on Peak versus Peek versus Pique, Fogarty quotes Bruce Willis as John McClane from Die Hard 2: “Hey, well, as far as I’m concerned, progress peaked with frozen pizza.” The book is filled with these amusing quotations, making it not only a useful tool but also an enjoyable read.

There are a number of entries that support the guidelines outlined in the AMA Manual of Style and the style quizzes posted on the style manual’s website. For example, the following terms addressed by Fogarty are also addressed in the Correct and Preferred Usage of Common Words and Phrases section of the AMA Manual of Style: Affect versus Effect, Because Of versus Due To, Compose versus Comprise, e.g. versus i.e., Fewer versus Less, Historic versus Historical, Imply versus Infer, and Regime versus Regimen versus Regiment. In addition, a recent style quiz on the AMA Manual of Style website supports Fogarty’s entry on A versus An.

Overall, you don’t have to be a superhero to use Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again. It is an accessible, witty, useful book for anyone who needs to be rescued from those common grammar quandaries we so often encounter.—Laura King, MA, ELS

November 16, 2012

Split Infinitives

Filed under: grammar — amastyleinsider @ 11:21 am
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Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive [expletive deleted], I split it so it will stay split….—Raymond Chandler1

The proscription against splitting infinitives—the insertion of one or more words between the particle to and the bare verb2 (eg, to really try, to quickly go)—dates from the early 19th century, when an 1834 magazine article fired perhaps the first shot in the war against the construction.3 Other observers such as Henry Alford (A Plea for the Queen’s English [1864])4 quickly followed suit, and soon a full-blown battle was afoot. The timing of all of this is not surprising, given the affection of the Victorian era for Latin,4 a language in which the infinitive cannot be split because it is a single word.5,6

It should be noted, however, that writers of English have been making free use of the split infinitive since the 14th century3 and that “Noteworthy splitters include John Donne, Daniel Defoe, George Eliot, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, William Wordsworth, and Willa Cather”6—and Raymond Chandler, who once took the admirably firm stance noted above.1 Moreover, the split infinitive has enjoyed renewed support since at least the 1930s, and many authorities now agree with Sterling Leonard, who in 1932 wrote that “The evidence in favor of the judiciously split infinitive is sufficiently clear to make it obvious that teachers who condemn it are wasting their time and that of their pupils.”7 Part of the reason for the support is that because the particle to is not truly part of the infinitive, technically “there’s nothing to split.”4 Furthermore, a split infinitive sounds natural because in English, the best place for an adverb… is right in front of the word it describes.”4

However, some discretion is necessary. Some split infinitives are acceptable because the adverb will not make sense anywhere else in the sentence. Others simply sound better owing to the rise and fall of accented syllables (consider, for example, perhaps the most famous split infinitive of all time—Star Trek’s “To boldly go where no man has gone before….”).2,3,7 Still others are acceptable on the grounds that unsplitting them would result in an awkward construction or, worse, change the sense altogether7—consider, for example, the different meanings of “I want to live simply,” “I simply want to live,” and “I want to simply live.”8

This is not to say that all infinitives can or should be split. Given the lingering wariness toward the construction, avoiding splits is advisable when writing for unfamiliar audiences or for those known to favor the proscription; in such cases, if “a split is easily fixed by putting the adverb at the end of the phrase and the meaning remains the same, then avoiding the split is the best course.”7 Also, writers should carefully assess splits involving the insertion of 2 or more words between the particle and the bare verb to ensure that the intended meaning is not changed or simply obscured by a list of adverbs. Last, writers should also take special care to avoid ambiguity that can arise when only the first infinitive in a series of infinitives contains the particle, because it can be unclear whether the adverb modifies only the first infinitive or all of the infinitives in the series.7

The bottom line:

● Splitting infinitives is not incorrect—but deciding whether to split is a matter of having “a good ear and a keen eye.”7

● Whenever possible, take into account the perceived tastes of the audience—and always take into account the rhythm and sound of the construction, the number of adverbs in use, and any ambiguity that might result from placement of the adverb(s).

● Recasting a sentence to avoid using an infinitive altogether is always an option.

● If it seems that splitting is justifiable, by all means go for it—and know that you are in good company.—Phil Sefton, ELS

1. Chandler R. Letter to Atlantic Monthly editor Edward Weeks. Dictionary.com website. http://quotes.dictionary.com/would_you_convey_my_compliments_to_the_purist. January 18, 1948. Accessed November 8, 2012.

2. Fogarty M. Quick and Dirty Tips: Split Infinitives. Grammar Girl website. http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/split-infinitives.aspx. Accessed October 9, 2012.

3. Nordquist R. Grammar & Composition: Split Infinitive. About.com website. http://grammar.about.com/od/rs/g/splitinfinitive.htm?p=1. Accessed October 9, 2012.

4. O’Conner PT. Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Riverhead Books; 2009:210-213.

5. Iverson C, Christiansen S, Flanagin A, et al. AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 10th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2007:322.

6. Split Infinitive. thefreedictionary.com website. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/p/Splits%20the%20infinitive. Accessed October 9, 2012.

7. Garner BA. The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2000:314-315.

8. Maddox M. What Is a Split Infinitive? DailyWritingTips website. http://www.dailywritingtips.com/what-is-a-split-infinitive/. Accessed November 8, 2012.

November 9, 2012

Quiz Bowl: Geographic Abbreviations

Filed under: abbreviations — amastyleinsider @ 9:49 am
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Are you in town to watch the Chicago Cubs play the Saint Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Cardinals, or the St Louis Cardinals? Are they playing at 1060 West Addison St, 1060 W. Addison St., or 1060 W Addison St? Is that at the corner of Addison and Clark Sts, Addison and Clark Streets, or Addison and Clark streets? Knowing when and how to abbreviate geographic terms can be tricky. That’s why this month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz offers practice and tips on how to more easily tread the winding road of geographic abbreviations style. Ready to start the journey? Here we go!

How would you edit the following:

Reprint requests should be addressed to Margaret Smith, MD, MPH, 515 North State Street, Room 22202, Chicago, IL 60654

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

Reprint requests should be addressed to Margaret Smith, MD, MPH, 515 N State St, Room 22202, Chicago, IL 60654

When complete local addresses are given, compass directions (in this example, N for North) and street designators (in this example, St for Street) should be abbreviated. Room is never abbreviated (§14.4, Local Addresses, pp 449-450 in print).

And for the record, the Chicago Cubs play the St Louis Cardinals at 1060 W Addison St, which is at the corner of Addison and Clark streets.—Laura King, MA, ELS

October 25, 2012

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 9:07 am
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Q: What is the source for the statement in section 11.10.5 that “The term sexual preference  should be avoided because it implies a voluntary choice of sexual orientation not supported by the scientific literature”?

A: The source is what is shown as reference 20:  Maggio’s Talking About People:  A Guide to Fair and Accurate Language. This was published by Oryx Press in 1997 and we are not aware of a newer edition.

Q: Is there a list in the manual, or in a source recommended by the manual, as to when it is appropriate to refer to an individual as “Dr”? It is sometimes difficult to know if a non-US degree is equivalent to an MD degree.

A: Great question. We do include a few of these in the manual (eg, MBBS), but you might try Google. It can provide helpful information on various degrees.

Q: Would you use “e-visit” or “E-visit” when it appears at the beginning of a sentence?

A: Based on the advice we give in 10.7 for “e-mail” (use “E-mail” if it appears at the beginning of a sentence), I would use “E-visit” at the start of a sentence.

Q: How do you cite the online AMA Manual of Style?

A:  I would recommend the following, based on 3.15.2 in the manual:

Iverson C, Christiansen S, Flanagin A, et al.  AMA Manual of Style:  A Guide for Authors and Editors.  10th ed.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press; 2007.  www.amamanualofstyle.com.  Published online 2009.

Cheryl Iverson, MA

October 19, 2012

Top 10 Mistakes Authors Make

Filed under: editing process,usage — amastyleinsider @ 4:58 pm
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Publishing a style manual, particularly a lengthy, detailed manual that covers a ridiculous amount of technical material (Hello, AMA Manual of Style!), is a grueling process. In our case, it involved 10 people meeting for at least an hour every week for more than a year, where we tried not to get into arguments about grammar, usage, and the presentation of scientific data. After the meetings there would usually be flurries of e-mails about grammar, usage, and the presentation of scientific data. Then we’d all go home and dream about grammar, usage, and the presentation of scientific data. You get the picture.

My point is that the writers of style manuals are often a little, shall we say, too close to the material. In the case of the AMA Manual of Style, we are all editors as well—and it can be hard for us not to roll our eyes when we run into the same problems on manuscript after manuscript. Come on, authors: there’s a whole book on this stuff!

Which, of course, is precisely the problem. There is a whole THOUSAND-PAGE book that tries to encompass all aspects of medical editing. It’s impossible to expect authors to absorb all the information–they’re just trying to get published, and it’s our job to help them. Here, in classic top-10-list reverse order, are the top 10 editorial problems we see in our submitted and accepted manuscripts, compiled by committee and editorialized upon by me. If any authors happen to read this, maybe it will help them avoid the most common errors; if any journal website–design people read it, maybe they can grab some ideas for more explicit user interface; and if any copy editors read it, maybe they can enjoy shaking their heads in wry commiseration.

10. Missing or incomplete author forms. Most journals require authors to fill out some forms, usually involving things like copyright transfer, an assertion of responsibility for authorship, and so on. These forms are often filled out incorrectly or incompletely. Following a form’s instructions as to signatures and boxes to check can save significant amounts of time in the publication process.

9. Not explaining “behind the scenes” stuff. Values in a table don’t add up—oh, it’s because of rounding. The curve in this figure doesn’t connect the values listed in the “Results” section—oh, we used data smoothing. This kind of thing can be easily explained in a footnote, but many authors forget to do so because it seems so obvious to them.

8. Making life difficult for the copy editor. Authors and editors have the same goal: a polished, published, accurate manuscript. Sure-fire ways authors can ruin what should be a pleasant working relationship are to suggest that the copy editor is making changes in the manuscript for no reason; calling the copy editor to discuss changes without having read the edited manuscript first (this wastes oodles of time); and not reading the cover letter that comes with the edited manuscript. This last is particularly charming when the author then calls the copy editor to ask all the questions that are very nicely answered in said cover letter.

7. Common punctuation and style mistakes (not an exhaustive list). Most frequently we see authors fail to expand abbreviations; use different abbreviations for the same term throughout a manuscript; use commas like seasoning instead of like punctuation marks with actual rules of deployment; and overuse the em dash. However, I’d like to tell any authors reading this not to fret, because that’s the kind of stuff we’re paid to fix. Plus I can’t really throw stones—being a fan of the em dash myself.

6. Errors of grandiosity. Sometimes a perfectly nice and valid study will go hog-wild in the conclusion, claiming to be changing the future of scientific inquiry or heralding a sea-change in the treatment of patients everywhere. Or authors will selectively interpret results, focusing on the positive and ignoring the negative or neutral. It’s natural to want to write an elegant conclusion—it’s one of the few places in a scientific manuscript where one can really let loose with the prose—but it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

5. Wacky references. All journals have a reference citation policy, and across scientific journals it is fairly standard to give reference numbers at the point of citation, cite references in numerical order in the text (as opposed to only in tables or figures), and retain a unique number for each reference no matter how many times it’s cited. However, we still get papers with references handled in all kinds of odd ways (alphabetical, chronological, or seemingly inspired by the full moon). References that include URLs can mean big problems. Often the URL doesn’t work or the site is password-protected, subscription-only, or otherwise useless to the reader. Also aggravating: references that are just the result of the search string for the article and not the URL for the article itself.

4. Duplicate submission. In scientific publication, it is not acceptable to submit a report of original research to multiple journals at the same time. Journal editors are likely to be more disturbed by this if it looks deliberate rather than like a simple mistake (not realizing that a foreign-language journal “counts,” for example) or if the case is debatable (a small section of results was published in another paper, but the new paper adds tons of new material). Remember those forms from the 10th most common mistake? One of them asks about previous submission or publication. We need authors to be up-front about any other articles in the pipeline, even if (especially if) they’re not sure if they might constitute duplicate publication.

3. Failing to protect patient identity. Yup, there’s a form for this too! Any time a patient is identifiable, in a photograph or even in text (as in a case report), authors must have the patient’s consent. (Contrary to popular belief, the gossip-mag-style “black bars” over the eyes are not sufficient to conceal identity.) Usually we hear complaints about this, because studies are written long after patients are treated and it can be hard to track people down, but them’s the breaks. If it’s really impossible to obtain after-the-fact patient consent, editors will work with authors to crop photos, take out details, or whatever it takes to “de-identify” patients.

2. Not matching up all the data “bits.” In the abstract, 76 patients were randomized to receive the intervention, but it’s 77 in Table 1. There was a 44.5% reduction in symptoms in the medicated group in the text, but later it’s 44.7%. Sometimes this is because the abstract is written first from the overall results, while the data in a table are more precisely calculated by a statistician; or maybe the number of patients changed along the way and no one went back to revise the earlier data. Either way, it drives copy editors crazy.

1. Not reading a journal’s Instructions for Authors. These days almost all scientific journals have online submission, and almost always there is a link to something called “Information for Authors,” “Guidelines for Manuscript Submission,” or something similar. Judging by the kinds of questions editorial offices receive almost daily, authors rarely read these—but the publication process would often go so much more smoothly if they would.

We are proud of our style manual, although we realize it isn’t the last word in scientific style and format. There can never really be a “last word” because some editor will always want to have it! Anyway, without authors there wouldn’t be anything to edit, so we would never hold any “mistakes” against them. No matter how grievous a manuscript’s misstep, an editor will be there to correct it, because it’s our job. (But mostly because we can’t stop ourselves.)—Brenda Gregoline, ELS

 

October 7, 2012

Quiz Bowl: Articles

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 7:19 am
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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

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