March 18, 2015

Questions From Users of the Manual

Filed under: frequently asked questions — amastyleinsider @ 3:44 pm
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Q: We are having a discussion about –ic and –ical. Dictionaries often use both. Where does the AMA Manual stand on this?

A: Please refer to the Correct and Preferred Usage chapter in the manual. You’ll see an entry on this very subject. In addition, there are entries on some of the pairs of words where the meaning of the –ic version is different from that of the –ical version (eg, classic/classical, historic/historical).

Q: Does AMA style advise against using a period after the abbreviation Inc?

A: Yes, we advise against using a period after the abbreviation Inc. This is addressed in section 14.7.

Q: In the course of developing a manuscript, an author has retired. Should we delete her affiliation? Or perhaps indicate something about her retirement in parentheses?

A: I would list the author’s affiliation, assuming she was affiliated with this institution while working on the paper. Then, follow the guidance about Author’s Affiliation (section 2.3.3) if a person has moved. This would mean adding an indication that Dr X is now retired. The style used for this notation will depend on the design of the journal involved. —Cheryl Iverson, MA

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 as a way to shorten URLs in references in a scientific article’s reference list?

A: Using to shorten URLs in the reference list for a scientific article is probably not consistent with best practices. We do use 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 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 domain,”—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 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

July 6, 2012

Right, Almost Right, and Just Plain Wrong: Spelling (and Spacing) Variations

Filed under: punctuation,spelling,usage — amastyleinsider @ 11:09 am
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It is now the work of years for children to learn to spell; and after all, the business is rarely accomplished. A few men, who are bred to some business that requires constant exercise in writing, finally learn to spell most words without hesitation; but most people remain, all their lives, imperfect masters of spelling, and liable to make mistakes, whenever they take up a pen to write a short note. Nay, many people, even of education and fashion, never attempt to write a letter, without frequently consulting a dictionary.—Noah Webster1

The primary nonmedical/nonscientific dictionary used at JAMA and the Archives Journals is Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and the medical/scientific dictionary of record is Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary. In the list given below, we show the preferred spelling of frequently misspelled scientific and nonscientific words as indicated by Webster’s and Dorland’s.

Whereas Webster’s shows equal or secondary variants in the entry “head,” Dorland’s uses a single term for the entry head but lists cross-references for variant spellings at the end of the entry for the preferred term. But note that Webster’s also often includes variant spellings in its entries (eg, aesthetic and esthetic). These “equal variants” are indicated by or. If they are given in alphabetical order, “they occur with equal or nearly equal frequency.” If they are given out of alphabetical order, but still joined by or, the first is slightly more common than the second. If they are joined by also, the word given second “occurs appreciably less often” than the first and is considered a “secondary variant.”

The front matter of Webster’s also notes: “Other spelling variants may be flagged with var with some further brief explanation, for example, metre … chiefly Brit var of meter.” Exception: Variant spellings that appear in direct, written (eg, published) quotations should not be changed to US variants.

To maintain consistency within their journals, the editors of JAMA and the Archives Journals prefer the first spelling of the entry of any given word.

Right and Almost Right

acknowledgment (equal variant, out of alphabetical order: acknowledgement)

aesthetic (secondary variant: esthetic)

breastfeeding (Webster’s: breast-feeding)

cutoff (as noun or adjective)

cut off (as verb)

distention (as given in Dorland’s; equal variant in Webster’s: distension)

judgment (equal variant, out of alphabetical order: judgement)

phosphorus (as noun)

phosphorous (as adjective)

sulfur (secondary variant: sulphur)

supersede (secondary variant: supercede)

Just Plain Wrong

accommodate (not accomodate)

ancillary (not ancilary)

arrhythmia (not arhythmia)

brussels sprouts (not brussel sprouts)

cholecystectomy (not cholecysectomy)

consensus (not concensus)

cribriform (not cribiform)

desiccate (not dessicate)

diphtheria (not diptheria)

dyspnea (not dysnea)

embarrass (not embarass)

erythematosus (not erythematosis)

Escherichia (not Echerichia)

fluorescent (not florescent)

fluorouracil (not flourouracil)

Haemophilus (not Hemophilus)

harass (not harrass)

hematopoietic (not hematopoetic)

Legionella pneumophila (not Legionella pneumophilia)

levothyroxine (not levothyroxin)

millennium (not millenium)

minuscule (not miniscule)

Neisseria gonorrhoeae (not Neisseria gonorrhea)

ophthalmology (not opthalmology)

Papanicolaou (not Papanicolou)

pertussis (not pertussus)

pruritus (not pruritis)

sagittal (not saggital)

sinusitis (not sinusitus)

sphygmomanometer (not sphygomamometer)

sulfide (not sulphide)

syphilis (not syphillis)

unwieldy (not unwieldly)

Now, this is nice and neat. But what if the 2 principal dictionaries (medical and nonmedical) differ on the preferred spelling of a word? Which to follow? We make such decisions on a case-by-case basis. For example, anti-inflammatory in Webster’s was chosen instead of antiinflammatory in Dorland’s because the former was considered to be expressed more clearly with a hyphen between the 2 i’s. Similarly, workup (as a noun, meaning a thorough evaluation to arrive at a diagnosis) was chosen over work-up. (But: Use work up as a verb!)

Spacing and punctuation (to hyphenate or not to hyphenate) add further questions of variation. These too are decided on a case-by-case basis. Below is a small sample of some of these decisions.

cost-effective, cost-effectiveness (not cost effective, cost effectiveness)

end point (not endpoint)

health care (not healthcare)

policy maker (not policymaker)

under way (not underway)

A final word to the wise: Until spell-checkers include a read-my-mind function, do not rely on them for solving spelling problems!—Roxanne K. Young, ELS

1. Webster N. An essay on the necessity, advantages, and practicality of reforming the mode of spelling and of rendering the orthography of words correspondent to pronunciation. In: Dissertations on the English Language: With Notes, Historical and Critical, to Which Is Added, by Way of Appendix, an Essay on a Reformed Mode of Spelling, With Dr. Franklin’s Arguments on That Subject. Boston, MA: 1789.

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

May 31, 2011

Editors’ Eyes

Filed under: editing process — amastyleinsider @ 9:49 am
Tags: , ,

The dialog box in Word suggests unironically that I should consider changing antidiabetic to ant diabetic. Is there a hyperglycemic epidemic in the insect population that I missed hearing about?

Spell-check can be a useful tool that improves the quality and readability of content. But as editors and readers know all too well, spell-check can be dangerous if wielded indiscriminately. Instead of making the role of a human editor obsolete, spell-check has only underscored the need for such professionals.

Several papers submitted to JAMA recently proved this point. I usually run spell-check after I complete my editing in case I missed something. In addition to the diabetic ants, Word suggested the following: change metformin to motormen, pertussis to peruses, autonomously to gluttonously, and PDF to puff.

I politely declined all these fine suggestions but was grateful when Word spotted terible that should have been tertile. What a difference a word makes.

Over time spell-check has become more useful because I regularly add words to my locally stored dictionary (“Add to Dictionary” in the dialog box). In addition, Dorland’s offers a medical spell-checker that can be integrated directly into Word and Stedman’s offers a medical spell-checker as well

Despite these useful add-ons, I still like to read articles word-for-word, when time permits, and not rely solely on technology to prevent errors. The ants, I’m afraid, are beyond my expertise.—Stacy L. Christiansen, MA

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