March 27, 2013

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 2:50 pm
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Q: I have sometimes seen myalgia written in its plural form, myalgias. I would no sooner write myalgias than I would write bone losses.  What is your opinion on this?

A: I took a look at both Webster’s 11th and Dorland’s, our principal dictionaries, and both of them define myalgia as “pain in a muscle or muscles.” I think that this is indication that the singular covers both one and many. So, in short, I am in agreement with your reasoning and would use the singular. I also consulted the author of our Correct and Preferred Usage chapter, and she agrees–she feels the plural form is more “jargon-y.”

Q: In the sentence below, would you change frequently occurring to common?

Constipation is a frequently occurring symptom that can result from dehydration, use of certain medications, prolonged bed rest, lack of physical activity, or mechanical changes resulting from cancer or anticancer therapies.

A:  My instinct is that these 2 are not identical. The notion of “frequently occurring” could apply to frequency in a single individual, I think, whereas “common” signifies that it is something that may be experienced by many people (without any regard to its frequency). Roxanne Young, the author of our Correct and Preferred Usage chapter, concurs. You did not say why you were thinking of making the change, but the opinion from The JAMA Network Journals is that we would retain the distinction, however subtle, between frequently occurring and common.

Q: The author instructions in a journal to which I am about to submit a paper refers to the “standard abbreviations within the AMA 10th edition (see pages 502-525).” I notice that a small number of these abbreviations are followed by an asterisk, indicating that they do not require expansion at first mention. Are these the only “standard abbreviations” to which the guidelines might refer? Does the AMA Manual of Style contain other lists that include such “asterisked” items?

A:  The list on pages 502-525 (in section 14.11 for those who use the online manual and don’t find page numbers helpful), does indeed contain a few items that have an asterisk to indicate that they do not need to be expanded at first mention. [NOTE:  As of July 27, 2011, an asterisk was also added after CI (confidence interval). See this in the online Updates.] The page numbers 502 through 525 also include the list in 14.12 , Units of Measure. There are many other little lists of abbreviations throughout the manual, but these lists, in the Abbreviations chapter, are the ones most likely to be intended by the instructions for authors you cite.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

October 17, 2011

Questions From Users of the Manual

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

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 ( 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

June 15, 2011

Quiz Bowl: Plurals

Filed under: editing process,quizzes,usage — amastyleinsider @ 2:02 pm
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It’s time for our second Quiz Bowl! This month’s quiz, which subscribers can find at, examines the use of plurals. Test your knowledge by correcting the error in the following sample question based on your understanding of chapter 9 of the AMA Manual of Style.

Sera from 100 infants in the study were collected at birth.

Okay, time’s up. Did you identify the error? Here’s the answer (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

Serum samples from 100 infants in the study were collected at birth.

Beware of “pluralizing” nouns that cannot stand on their own as plurals (eg, use serum samples not sera and urine tests not urines) (§9.7, When Not to Use Plurals, p 369 in print).

If you want to learn more about how to edit plural words, subscribe to the AMA Manual of Style online and take the full quiz. Stay tuned next month for another edition of Quiz Bowl.—Laura King, MA, ELS

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