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April 25, 2012

The “Asterisk Solution,” or Group Authorship Is Still Authorship

Filed under: authorship,editing process — amastyleinsider @ 2:04 pm
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Authors may come alone or in pairs or trios. Or more. Today, more and more frequently, they come as part of a group. There is nothing wrong with group authorship—groups can accomplish great things. But if a group is named in the byline as sole author or in addition to individually named authors, all members of the group are still being presented as authors and all must meet authorship requirements.

This is a point of contention or difficulty for some authors (or some groups), who wish to have only the name of the group in the byline even if only a small number of the members of the group (eg, the Writing Committee) meet the standards of authorship set forth by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and outlined on the authorship forms required by our journals.

What to do? The AMA Manual of Style lists an option to address both concerns: (1) authors who want only a group name to appear in the byline, even if all members of the group do not meet authorship criteria, and (2) journals that want to adhere to the criteria for authorship outlined by the ICMJE. Let’s call this the “asterisk solution.” An asterisk is placed after the group name in the byline, and this links to an asterisked footnote that indicates which members of the group met authorship criteria.

The asterisk solution often is a happy one for both authors and journal editors (and it allows readers to see who the true authors are). But sometimes even the asterisk is objected to. The editors of 3 ophthalmology journals (Archives of Ophthalmology, American Journal of Ophthalmology, and Ophthalmology) found strength in numbers. In August 2010, the 3 editors published a jointly written editorial in each of their journals, outlining the “asterisk solution” policy from the AMA Manual of Style and announcing that they planned to hold firm to this policy in their journals.

Being an author is a form of recognition and can add to one’s reputation. It also represents a responsibility. The asterisk solution bestows recognition and responsibility with a single character.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

April 16, 2012

Quiz Bowl: Publishing Terms

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 1:28 pm
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Imagine your first day of work as a new editor at a large association. Seasoned professionals are bandying around words such as blueline, bleed, and boilerplate. When they use the word dummy you think they’re talking about you. Before you pack your blue pencil and head for the door, take a deep breath and dive into this month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz on publishing terms at http://www.amamanualofstyle.com. Here is an example of what you can learn:

Which of the following terms means a drawing showing a conception of the finished product that includes sizing and positioning of the elements?
blueline
color proof
galley proof
layout

And the answer is (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

layout

According to the AMA Manual of Style, layout is “a drawing showing a conception of the finished product that includes sizing and positioning of the elements.” A blueline is “the proof sheet(s) of a book or magazine printed in blue ink that shows exactly how the pages will look when they are printed.” A color proof is “photomechanical or digital presentations of color.” A galley proof is “a proof of typeset text copy run 1 column wide before being made into a page.”

Feeling a little more armed to face that first day of work? If not, take the full Publishing Terms Quiz on the AMA Manual of Style website to master your knowledge of publishing terms.—Laura King, MA, ELS

February 21, 2012

Incidence

Filed under: statistics,usage — amastyleinsider @ 9:55 am
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In medical contexts, incidence is most often used in its epidemiologic sense, ie, the number of new cases of a disease occurring over a defined period among persons at risk for that disease. When thus used, incidence may be expressed as a percentage (new cases divided by number of persons at risk during the period) or as a rate (number of new cases divided by number of person-years at risk).

Reporting several incidence values in the same sentence can nearly always be accomplished using the singular form (eg, “the incidence of nonfatal myocardial infarction during follow-up was 10% at 6 months, 19% at 12 months, and 26% at 18 months” or “the incidence of clinical stroke decreased significantly, from 7.6 to 5.3 per 1000 person-years in men and from 6.2 to 5.1 per 1000 person-years in women). However, in rare instances, sentence construction may necessitate the use of the plural, which of course is… what, exactly? The understandable urge to simply add an “s” at the end of the word to form the plural results in incidences — a form not found in most dictionaries and a clunker of a word if ever there was one. Writers wishing for a more mellifluous plural sometimes use incidence rates, a valid term but one perhaps best reserved for reporting incidence values expressed as actual rates rather than simple percentages. Moreover, incidences is sometimes used when reporting values either as percentages or as rates, in the latter case missing a valuable opportunity to emphasize that rates rather than percentages are being reported.

Thus, it is perhaps best to use incidences, awkward as it may be, when reporting multiple incidence values as percentages and incidence rates when reporting such values as rates, eg, “at first follow-up, the incidences of falls resulting from frailty, neuromuscular disorders, or improper use of mobility devices were 15% (95% CI, 10%-20%), 12% (95% CI, 7%-17%), and 12% (5%-19%), respectively” or “the incidence rates for falls resulting from frailty, neuromuscular disorders, or improper use of mobility devices were 5.1, 6.3, and 4.6 per person-year, respectively.” Incidentally, these 2 examples report occurrences (falls) rather than diseases or conditions, and so represent 2 instances reporting the incidence of incidents.

To further muddy the waters, incidence is sometimes confused with prevalence, defined as the proportion of persons with a disease at any given time (ie, total number of cases divided by total population). Thus, whereas incidence describes how commonly cases are diagnosed, prevalence describes how widespread the disease already is; on a more personal level, incidence describes one’s risk of developing the disease, whereas prevalence describes the likelihood that one already has it. The confusion between the terms is perhaps attributable to the occasional use of prevalence in place of incidence in the study of rare, chronic diseases for which few newly diagnosed cases are available; however, this circumstance is unusual, and incidence and prevalence should always be distinguished from one another and used appropriately. (See also §20.9, Glossary of Statistical Terms, in the AMA Manual of Style, p 872 in print.)

Whereas prevalence is often used in general contexts to indicate predominance or general acceptance, the circumstances calling for the use of incidence in general contexts are quite few and become fewer still when one takes into account that incidence is often used when incidents (the simple plural of incident) or instance (again denoting an occurrence) would be the better choice. Perhaps incidents or instances was intended but never made it to the page — as is so often the case with homophones and near-homophones, even the careful writer who usually would not confuse incidence, incidents, and instance might one day look back over a hastily typed passage only to see that a wayward incidence has crept in; if the passage is hastily edited to boot, the error might well go unnoticed until the passage is in print and a discerning reader takes pains to point it out in a letter or e-mail. The plural form, incidences, has virtually no use outside of the epidemiologic discussed above, although it has been used to subtly disorienting effect by translators rendering the Kafkaesque works of Russian writer Daniil Kharms (1904-1942) into English, most notably when rendering the 1-word title of Incidences, Kharms’ 1934 collection of absurdist critiques on life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. However, writers who are not political dissidents aiming for absurdist effect — presumably all medical writers — would do well to proofread carefully and often. — Phil Sefton, ELS

February 13, 2012

Respective

Filed under: usage — amastyleinsider @ 1:53 pm
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How much can one trust a curmudgeonly English composition teacher who terrorized his early 20th-century Cornell students? How relevant are his grammatical admonitions today? With little else to support my inclination to remove the word respective or its adverb partner respectively and unite the string of data points with what they modify, I find the barking rules of E. B. White’s college rhetoric teacher William Strunk Jr calming.

Based on White’s description of his teaching style in the introduction of Elements of Style,1 I can assert with some certainty that had Strunk found himself an adjunct English composition instructor today, “lean[ing] forward over his desk, grasp[ing] his coat lapels in his hands, and in a husky, conspiratorial voice, say[ing], ‘Rule Thirteen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!’” it might not go over so well with today’s sensitive students. The style of this widely emphatic man who barked writing rules during his lectures lasted a lifetime for White. Now about 100 years later, such barking would likely cause a rush to the dean’s office to do something about this brazen man’s approach to teaching. He would simply not be asked back the next semester because the trend today is for warm-hearted English comp teachers to create a safe environment in which students can write without becoming immobilized by gruff commands. So in as much as the style of teaching would end a career today, should one conclude that Strunk’s rules for writing have become as out of date as his approach to teaching them?

Several months ago, after reading White’s delightful 1972 homage to Strunk, I flipped through some of the commands and came upon a piece of advice that lifted me out of my self-doubt and emboldened me not to give up on eradicating the use of the word respective. Unlike the image of Strunk as confident, I am not so. I am one who will eventually cave on a rule, especially if I’m the only one defending it. For example, the use of healthful over healthy when describing behavior that leads to my good health—I have let it go. If a manuscript comes in describing eating fruit as healthy, I will let it stand and not change it to healthful.

Yet, when I see in almost every article that I edit a string of numbers followed by a list of items each number describes covered by respectively at the end of the sentence, my eyes cross. I become disheartened. As I push back my sleeves to match the experimental treatment groups with the values to describe the efficacy of a treatment, I sometimes wonder whether it is worth the effort to set up the parallel structure and the repletion of words to make the match. I sigh and do it, hoping not to offend the author.

Copyediting is a solitary experience that doesn’t often allow for consensus about the rules because, as they say, much of it is a matter of preference. But when one’s eyes land on a sure-footed confirmation about a problem that niggles and nags almost every day of my work life, I must rejoice, which is exactly what I did when my eyes fell to Strunk’s simple exhortation:

Respective, respectively. These words may usually be omitted with advantage.

My heart leaped. I am not alone! Strunk follows his simple rule with an example that justifies my applying it to scientific editing.

The mile run and the two-mile run were won by Jones and Cummings, respectively.

The mile run was won by Jones, the two-mile run by Cummings.

Look at that. The second example has fewer words.

The true purpose of writing is to be clear and not make the reader work too much. As the attention span of the reader decreases by the second, making them match numbers to words 3 lines down gives the reader little reason to continue. In light of today’s hot-footed race against time, I say Strunk is more relevant now than ever. White was right when he wrote in 1979:

“All through The Element of Style one finds evidences of the author’s deep sympathy for the reader. Will felt that the reader was in serious trouble most of the time, a man floundering in a swamp, and that it was the duty of anyone attempting to write English to drain this swamp quickly and get his man up on dry ground, or at least throw him a rope.”

Beverly Stewart, MSJ

1. Strunk W Jr, White EB. Elements of Style, 2nd ed. New York, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co; 1972.

January 24, 2012

Envy, Jealousy

Filed under: editing process,usage — amastyleinsider @ 11:10 am
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Words that convey similar meanings sometimes come to be used interchangeably. In the case of envy/envious and jealousy/jealous, though, the move seems to have been in one direction only; jealousy is often used in place of envy (“I’m so jealous of your new job”) but not vice-versa (one does not write, for example, “He was poisoned by his envious wife.”). Theodore Bernstein further points out that jealousy is sometimes used, not merely in place of envy, but as a stronger form: “‘There, within a stone’s throw of the sea, he makes his home, and his description of how he does this makes one move from envy to downright jealousy.’”1 A human, and perhaps all-too-familiar, state of affairs—anyone who denies having experienced such a progression of emotion is either hopelessly out of touch with his or her feelings or a liar.

However, although jealous has been used in place of envious since the late 1300s2 and using jealous as a more intense form of envious creates no confusion, it is often held that the words have distinct meanings and that this distinction should be maintained. Even authorities sometimes flounder around a bit when trying to nail the distinction,3 but in general envy is taken to convey a coveting of the wealth, possessions, or success of someone else,4 whereas jealousy is often taken to convey a state of “intolerance of a rival for the possession of a thing which one regards as peculiarly one’s own or for the winning of which one has set one’s heart….”4 Jealousy also can be used in a less grasping sense to indicate the understandable guarding of some possession or attribute, as in “new colonies were jealous of their new independence.”5 Both of the latter meanings highlight that jealousy concerns an attitude toward something that one has or believes one has. In this sense, envious and jealous are not interchangeable—one can jealously guard something, but one cannot enviously guard something.

However, jealous also often carries a frank note of hostility, “a strong implication of distrust, suspicion, enviousness, or sometimes anger.4 This might suggest why the person seeking a word with a bit more heft than envious will sometimes use jealous instead—quite simply, when casting about for a suitably malicious word in the heat of the moment, jealous is low-hanging fruit.

On the other hand, envy is not the innocuous little milquetoast that it at first seems. True, it can be used without malice; one can say, for example, “I don’t envy him his mother in law.” Equally true, it has in the past been used in a noble sense—Aristotle wrote of “good envy,” an admiration that drives one to emulate another3—although that usage has been rare since the 1600s and is now nearly obsolete.6 Certainly, envy carries less emotional charge than jealousy. But to assume that envy is simply a meek cousin of jealousy is to make a mistake.

If jealousy implies strong emotion that often is perhaps all too apparent to everyone involved, envy can imply something more clandestine; as Joseph Epstein puts it, “Malice that cannot speak its name, cold-blooded but secret hostility, impotent desire, hidden rancor, and spite all cluster at the center of envy.”3 Used in this sense, envy suddenly becomes a different animal altogether, and, as Epstein further points out, “The openness changes the nature of the game. Envy is almost never out in the open; it is secretive, plotting, behind the scenes.”3 Perhaps this is another reason that jealousy is often used, albeit subconsciously, in place of envy—after all, envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins; jealousy is not.

In short, although envy and jealousy have long been used interchangeably and jealousy has come to be frequently used in place of envy, the words do denote different states, and the careful writer should take care to maintain the distinction between them. Both can be used in neutral ways (“She was jealous of her honor”; “I don’t envy him his workload”), but both also can carry weightier meanings; in choosing between them, one might keep in mind that “The real distinction is that one is jealous of what one has, envious of what other people have.”3

The bottom line:

● Looking for a word that expresses the coveting of what someone else has? Use envy.

● Looking for a word that expresses the guarding of what one has or believes one has? Use jealousy.

● Keep in mind that although jealousy is often used as a more intense form of envy, it might be better to use another word or to reword the sentence so as to retain envy.—Phil Sefton, ELS

 

1. Envy, jealousy. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:166-167.

2. Jealous. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:892.

3. Epstein J. The green-eyed monster: envy is nothing to be jealous of. Washington Monthly website. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0307.epstein.html. July/August 2003. Accessed December 13, 2011.

4. Envious, jealous. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms. Springfield, MA; Merriam-Webster Inc; 1984:295.

5. Jealous. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:671.

6. Envy. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:523.

December 21, 2011

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 3:01 pm
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Q: What do you recommend regarding the necessity of including state names (or province names or country names) with the names of certain well-known cities?

A: We used to have a list of cities that could stand without a state (or province or country), but we discontinued that with the ninth edition and recommend that a state or country name be included with all cities.  (What is well known to one may not be well known to another.)  For details and exceptions, see section 14.5.

Q: Do you recommend using “eg” or “e.g.”? Since this represents the shortening of 2 words, I believe “e.g.” would be correct.

A: We recommend using “eg,” closed up, with no periods. See the list of Clinical, Technical, and Other Common Terms in section 14.11. It is true that this abbreviation represents 2 words, but within the list in section 14.11 you will note that most of the abbreviations included represent at least 2 words and yet they are joined without periods. This is a fairly common practice.

Q: I can’t find anything in the Manual about “normal saline,” but I seem to remember that this term was not preferred. Help.

A: Your memory is good.  In the ninth edition of the Manual (section 15.11), we did  indicate a preference for isotonic sodium chloride solution over normal saline. However, in the current edition we dropped that preference and consider normal saline acceptable, so there is no need to change it. If an author uses isotonic sodium chloride solution, however, that too may stand.  Both terms are acceptable.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

December 7, 2011

Ode to the Style Manual

Filed under: editing process — amastyleinsider @ 5:01 pm
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(A poem from a hardcore user of the AMA Manual.) (No, not the cat.)

I study the Manual each day and each night

Coming away with equal questions and answers

Seeking all ways to be right

Are you a temporary compound, both sides with a tall, proud face
or are you with us permanently but deserve only lower case.

Are you a word just colloquial–or maybe even worse–

The ever-intrusive -ology (ie, completely perverse)

Have you been with us 5 times or more

Making a point so precise and succinct

Or are you here fewer times but wind up using more ink

It’s often exhausting, I must admit

I feel like I’m chasing elusive catnip

Each time I move close to the intoxicating scent

I discover new Elements that were recently sent

They arrive in my inbox with regular speed

And though I accept them, I must concede

I’d rather they land in another box I need

I give up and lay (or lie?) down

Staring off into space

Who knew that reading required such mental pace

But eventually I notice the pillow I chose

The source of all I have said

Provides a solid foundation from which to function

Indeed, a good place for my head

Finally

I must admit to own

The penultimate of nerdity

In my discomfort with the structure of

A poem on editing’s absurdity—Donna J. Thordsen

November 4, 2011

Cheat Sheet for Abbreviations Style

Filed under: abbreviations,usage — amastyleinsider @ 1:07 pm
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Abbreviations are a convenience, a time saver, a space saver, and a way of avoiding the possibility of misspelling words. However, a price can be paid for their use. Abbreviations are sometimes not understood. They can be misread, or are interpreted incorrectly. … The person who uses an abbreviation must take responsibility for making sure that it is properly interpreted.—Neil M. Davis1

Abbreviations are used widely in medical articles, and great care should be taken to provide expansions that define these abbreviations. The AMA Manual of Style includes a straightforward rule regarding the use of abbreviations: Define abbreviations at first mention by providing the expanded term first, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses, and the abbreviation is used thereafter.

But for every rule, there are exceptions.

Some Exceptions:

• Avoid creating abbreviations for terms that are easy to spell out and do not take up a lot of space. For example, it is not advisable to abbreviate “catheter ablation” as “CA” or “immune response” as “IR.” Also, avoid using too many abbreviations in any one article.

• If a term is better known as an abbreviation, provide the abbreviation first with the definition following in parentheses. “The TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-biotin nick-end labeling) staining assay was carried out using an apoptosis detection kit.”

• It is inelegant to begin sentences with abbreviations, unless the expansion is so unwieldy that using the abbreviation makes sense. The previous example, TUNEL, also works here. Rather than begin a sentence with the cumbersome expansion, it is acceptable to begin the sentence with the abbreviation TUNEL.

• Abbreviations should not be introduced in headings. If an abbreviation is being used for the first time in a heading, expand the abbreviation in the heading; then, at first mention in the running text after the heading, expand the abbreviation again, with the abbreviation following in parentheses. Use the abbreviation thereafter.

• Some very common abbreviations do not require expanding at first mention, such as AIDS, TNM, UV, and CD-ROM. A complete list of these abbreviations is provided in section 14.11, with those that do not require expansion denoted by an asterisk.

• The efficiency of using an abbreviation is lost if the abbreviation is used only one time, so as a rule of thumb, introduce an abbreviation only if it is used at least 2 or 3 times.

Items of Note:

• Tables, figures, and abstracts are treated as separate items from the text, so abbreviated terms must be reexpanded in each of these items.

• Use the appropriate article (a or an) before an abbreviation according to the sound following the article (eg, a UN resolution, an HMO plan).

• Use a lowercase s (and no apostrophe) when making abbreviations plural (eg, NSAIDs).—Lauren B. Fischer

1. Davis NM. MEDical ABBREViations: 28,000 Conveniences at the Expense of Communication and Safety. 13th ed. Warminster, PA: Neil M Davis Associates; 2007:1.

October 25, 2011

Masterful, Masterly

Filed under: editing process,usage — amastyleinsider @ 1:49 pm
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Writers are often taught that masterful and masterly mean different things and to ensure that they are used correctly. Masterful, so such thinking goes, is taken to mean “suggestive of a domineering nature,” or “inclined and [usually] competent to act as master,”1 whereas masterly is used to denote “having the power and skill of a master.”1

However, the use of masterful to mean “skillful” is now widespread; as Bernstein, clearly a proponent of maintaining the distinction, pithily puts it, “masterly is never misused; masterful often is….”2 Moreover, it seems that the distinction has not always been observed. Whereas masterful has been used in the sense of “domineering” since the 1330s,3 it also was used to mean “skillful” as early as 1613.3 And whereas masterly was used in the sense of “skillful” since the mid 1600s,3 it also was used to mean “domineering” as early as the 1530s,3 although that use has been obsolete since the late 18th century.3

In short, both words have been used to indicate “skillful” since roughly the time of King James I of England. However, the idea that writers should distinguish between them is comparatively new1—and such a late addition of a distinction is the reverse of the more common case, in which a distinction between words ceases to hold sway as the language evolves.

The origin of the distinction? Merriam-Websters posits that it was “excogitated by a 20th century pundit”1—this “pundit” apparently none other than Henry Watson Fowler, editor of The Pocket Oxford Dictionary, coeditor of The Concise Oxford Dictionary and The King’s English, and author of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.4 In the latter work, Fowler established a distinction between masterful and masterly that was taken up by authorities such as Bernstein2 and that continues to be trumpeted to this day.5 Fowler’s reason for introducing the distinction? Masterly has only 1 sense (at least since its use to mean “domineering” became obsolete), so masterful should be limited to a single sense as well.1

However, some also have argued for the use of masterful in place of masterly in adverbial constructions, pointing out that although masterly is properly used as an adverb as well as an adjective, its use as an adverb seems awkward, even incorrect; eg, “He paints masterly.”2 Moreover, masterly, like many words ending in “y,” is what Bernstein (who nevertheless advocates distinguishing between the words) calls a “reluctant” adverb—ie, a word that resists serving as or being turned into an adverb.6 To make matters worse, masterly takes another adverbial form, the admittedly horrid masterlily.

Where does this leave the conscientious writer? Like Fowler, several modern authorities deem the distinction a valuable one5 and often advocate recasting a sentence to allow a more mellifluous use of a reluctant adverb5,6: hence, the sentence “Its wooden gables… showed how masterly they had been carved of old”3 might be recast as “Its wooden gables… showed the masterly manner in which they had been carved of old,” or similar. “A retreat of this kind,” Bernstein maintains, “is better than clumsy bravado.”6

At least one like-minded authority, however, has conceded that the battle to maintain the distinction—whatever its merits—has likely been lost.5 The prevalence of masterful in everyday usage confirms that opinion, receiving further support from the fact that the words have developed in roughly parallel fashion over time.3 Merriam-Websters concurs, maintaining that masterful used in the sense of “skillful” “has continued in reputable use all along; it cannot rationally be called an error.”1 Moreover, it has been suggested that using masterful in its original sense might even confuse readers now accustomed to the use of masterful to mean “skillful.”7

The bottom line:

● Using masterful in place of masterly to mean “skillful”? You’re in good company, and that usage has a long history. However:

● Set on maintaining a distinction between masterful and masterly? You can’t go wrong there, either. True enough, some readers might be confused by the use of masterful in its original sense—but since when do writers shrink from using words correctly to avoid confusion?—Phil Sefton, ELS

1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:764.

2. Masterful, masterly. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:269.

3. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:1045.

4. Sheidlower J. Elegant variation and all that. The Atlantic Online Web site. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/96dec/fowler/fowler.htm. December 1996. Accessed September 16, 2011.

5. Masterful, masterly. Good English Rules! Web site. http://www.goodenglishrules.com/masterful_masterly.htm. Accessed September 16, 2011.

6. Adverbs, reluctant. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:27.

7. Masterful vs. masterly. Grammarist Web site. http://www.grammarist.com/usage/masterful-masterly/. Accessed September 16, 2011.

October 17, 2011

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 3:03 pm
Tags: , , ,

Q: I am a medical writer (and writer, in general) and have always questioned the use of the lowercase “b” in the word “blacks.”  The “w” in “Whites” is normally capitalized when talking about that population.  Although this question is not limited to the AMA Manual of Style, how might I go about getting it changed so that the “b” in “blacks” is also capitalized, for consistency?

A: You will have noticed that in section 11.10.2 of the manual we do not use intial caps on either “white” or “black.”  Webster’s 11th seems to follow this policy also, as you will find definitions related to both races presented without initial caps. I also checked the Chicago Manual and, in section 8.39, they indicate a similar policy. “Common designation of ethnic groups by color are usually lowercased unless a particular publisher or author prefers otherwise.” So, there does seem to be consensus among this small sampling, but it is in the direction of using initial lowercase letters rather than initial caps for these terms.

Q: Are there courses that teach proper use of the AMA Manual of Style?

A: I know of one such course. It is the Medical Writing and Editing Certificate Program that is offered by the University of Chicago Graham School. See https://grahamschool.uchicago.edu/php/medicalwritingandediting/.

Q: I have been working as an APA style editor for nearly 3 years.  I would like to be able to work as an AMA style editor.  I need to learn the AMA style.  Which version of the manual do you recommend?  Is this manual available online?

A: You can visit the AMA Manual of Style Online site (www.amamanualofstyle.com) and you can see that you can purchase a book, an online subscription, or a “bundle” of both. You can also subscribe to the blog and sign up for tweets at no charge. Good luck to you!

Q: Does AMA have a preference for “versus” vs “vs”? If so, can you include the rationale behind the choice?

A: Yes, we prefer “vs” as an abbreviation for “versus” (except in the names of legal cases, where we use the conventional “v”). See the list of abbreviations (14.11) re our preference for how to abbreviate “versus” and also note that we do not require this abbreviation ever to be expanded.  Note too that the use of the lowercase italic “vee” is preferred in legal cases, per convention.  As to our rationale, we have been doing this for so long it is hard to recall exactly.  I suspect it was a combination of “vs” taking up less space than “versus” and being well recognized and understood by all/most.

Q: Is it 0.9 second or 0.9 seconds? The AMA Manual of Style doesn’t seem to address this particular question.

A: This question originally arose on the AMWA Editing-Writing Listserv. There was much good discussion and various sources were cited. After considering all the comments and polling our own staff, we come down on the side of Words Into Type and Edie Schwager’s Medical English Usage and Abusage (for print usage:  prefer the singular).  But when spoken, we prefer the advice of the Chicago Manual (section 10.68)—in general, prefer the plural.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

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