Quiz Bowl: Practice Editing Tables

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 http://www.amamanualofstyle.com—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Author-Editor Relationship

There have been some famous, even notorious, author-editor relationships: Charles Dickens and Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish. This month’s quiz takes us on a tour of some of these fruitful and fractious relationships as a means of exploring effective ways for editors to handle issues with authors. The following is an example from this month’s quiz.

Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, notoriously and wittily disdained editors. In a 1967 interview in The Paris Review, he said, “By ‘editor’ I suppose you mean proofreader. Among these I have known limpid creatures of limitless tact and tenderness who would discuss with me a semicolon as if it were a point of honor—which, indeed, a point of art often is. But I have also come across a few pompous avuncular brutes who would attempt to “make suggestions” which I countered with a thunderous ‘stet!’”1

What is the best way for editors to communicate with authors who balk at the suggestions made to improve the manuscript?

a. E-mail the author to tell him/her that all the edits are based on the AMA Manual of Style and therefore not subject to change.

b. Telephone the author to discuss the edits, iterating the rationale and providing resource support for the changes.

c. Do not respond to the author.

d. Eliminate all the edits and publish the paper as the author originally submitted it.

What would you do? Here’s our advice (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

Telephone the author to discuss the edits, iterating the rationale and providing resource support for the changes.

Usually, an author’s insistence to overrule all editorial changes is a knee-jerk reaction to extensive editing. Most authors are aware of the editing process, although some need to be guided gently through it. Communicating with the author and explaining the reason for the changes (as well as providing resource support when necessary) can often defuse a volatile situation.—Laura King, MA, ELS

 

  1. Gold H, interviewer. Vladimir Nabokov, The Art of Fiction No. 40. The Paris Review. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4310/the-art-of-fiction-no-40-vladimir-nabokov. Accessed February 8, 2013.

Quiz Bowl: Articles

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

Quiz Bowl: Anatomy

Quiz Bowl is back! After a much need summer hiatus (much needed on my part, not sure how you guys feel about the matter), the games continue with a quiz on anatomy. Hmmm, maybe I should rephrase that. Make that with a quiz on anatomy terms. Hmmm, that’s medical terms, not the kind you see scribbled on the bathroom wall. Now that that’s cleared up, let’s get to the question.

Edit the following sentence to conform to the AMA Manual of Style guidelines on anatomical terms (§11.6, Anatomy, p 410 in print).

The investigators examined catheter-induced lesions of the right heart.

Any ideas? Consider the term right heart. Here’s the answer (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

The investigators examined catheter-induced lesions of the right side of the heart

Although some animals have more than 1 heart (the octopus, the earthworm, the cockroach), people only have 1 heart. Authors often err in referring to anatomical regions or structures as the “right heart,” “left chest,” “left neck,” and “right brain.” The terms right and left imply 2 different structures. Generally these terms can be corrected by inserting a phrase such as “part of the” or “side of the.”

Want to learn more? Take the full Anatomy Quiz on the AMA Manual of Style online. See you next month!—Laura King, MA, ELS

AMA Style Insider Responds

We love comments. (From real people, that is. Spambots, you can stop any time.)

We love comments like, “Great blog!” We even love comments like, “You are wrong about every single thing related to medical editing, your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries, goodbye.” Both of those require simple responses—I like “Thanks!” for both, to be honest. For the latter, I would be charitable and not even comment on the comma usage.

Every once in a while someone will leave a critical comment that requires a longer response, and sometimes the consultation of outside experts. That was the case with this Quiz Bowl post on units of measure. A reader wrote:

A big problem with the AMA manual is a lack of consideration significant figures. The conversion factor listed in the online “SI Conversion Tables” section from feet to centimeters is 30. That’s wrong. Let’s say I try to convert my height (6.0000 feet) into centimeters. The “.0000″ means that my measurement has 5 significant figures. Significant figures are important in science and health care.

I start with the only unit conversion between customary and metric that matters: 2.54 centimeters equals exactly 1 inch. This is the only conversion that matters because it is a definition. There are infinite significant figures.

Here is what happens if I use the “SI Conversion Tables” section of the AMA manual of style:

6.0000 feet * 30 = 180 centimeters

Here is what happens if I use math and pay attention to significant figures:

6.0000 feet * (12 inches/1 foot) * (2.54 cm)/(1 inch) = 182.88

Where did those extra 2.88 centimeters come from? They came from a a conversion factor that was wrong.

For the same reason as above, your answer to the first problem is wrong.

7.2 inches^2 * (((2.54 cm)^2)/((1 in)^2)) = 46.45 (assuming 4 significant figures, to demonstrate the inaccuracy of your conversion factor)

This isn’t just an academic exercise. A text for editors shouldn’t have errors like this.

We made “hmmm” noises for a while but finally drafted a response to post here, since a shameful amount of time has gone by since the original comment.

You raise an important point about the significance of significant digits. The Manual addresses this in section 20.8.1 and, in chapter 18, where the conversion table is embedded that shows conversions for inches to centimeters, there is a caution that results should not be reported beyond the appropriate level of precision.  It is critical to ascertain the precision needed for the clinical context of the conversion. If you only need significance to 1 place beyond the decimal (7.2 inches) to accurately describe tumor size, then the 2 significant digits of the result should be fine and the clinical difference between 46.8 and 46.5 is probably not important.

It’s entirely possible that the final 3 words of that paragraph are the equivalent of a thrown gauntlet to someone out there—if so, we’re willing to continue the conversation in the comments to this post.—Brenda Gregoline, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Publishing Terms

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

Quiz Bowl: SI vs Conventional Units

Welcome back, quiz bowl participants. Our very first quiz bowl, which appeared on this site on May 5, 2011, dealt with format, style, and punctuation of units of measure. Now we’re back to delve even further into the intriguing and ever-changing world of units of measure style. The following is a sample of one of the questions that appears in this month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz on SI vs conventional units (http://www.amamanualofstyle.com/). Answer the question based on your understanding of section 18.5 of the AMA Manual of Style.

The mean 2-dimensional area of the largest metastasis was 7.2 sq in.

So, what do you think? This one isn’t really too hard. Here’s the answer (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

The mean 2-dimensional area of the largest metastasis was 46.8 cm2.

Measurements of length, area, volume, and mass are reported in metric units rather than English units. To convert square inches to square centimeters, multiply by 6.5 (§18.5.1, Length, Area, Volume, Mass, pp 794-795 in print).

Let’s try a more challenging question.

Admission laboratory tests revealed the following: serum creatinine, 0.9 mg/dL; serum urea nitrogen, 11 mg/dL; serum albumin, 39 g/L; and prothrombin time, 11.5 seconds.

Yes, this one is definitely harder. Here’s the answer:

Admission laboratory tests revealed the following: serum creatinine, 0.9 mg/dL (to convert to micromoles per liter, multiply by 88.4); serum urea nitrogen, 11 mg/dL (to convert to millimoles per liter, multiply by 0.357); serum albumin, 3.9 g/dL (to convert to grams per liter, multiply by 10); and prothrombin time, 11.5 seconds.

For laboratory values, 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 (§18.5.10, Laboratory Values, pp 797-816 in print). Although the AMA Manual of Style recommends writing out units of measure when no numbers are reported (eg, micromoles per liter), some journals may prefer to use abbreviations when listing SI conversion factors (eg, mmol/L).

Need some more practice? Subscribe to the AMA Manual of Style online and take the full quiz. If you’re new to the site, check out some of our other quizzes as well.—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Fill in the Blank

When is a girl really a woman? When is a boy a man? When do children stop being children and become adults? Okay, we are starting to sound like a style manual version of Bob Dylan—but these answers are not blowing in the wind, they are in an AMA Manual of Style quiz on age and sex referents. Below are some simple fill in the blank exercises to guide you when you take this quiz.

Use the following terms to fill in the blanks: woman, man, newborn, adolescent, and infant. (To see the answers, highlight the blank space with your mouse.)

A person from birth to 1 month of age is a(n) newborn.

A female person older than 18 years is a(n) woman.

A male person older than 18 years is a(n) man.

A person aged 1 month to 1 year is a(n) infant.

A person aged 13 through 17 years is a(n) adolescent.

For additional exercises on age and sex referent usage in medical publications, take this month’s quiz at www.amamanualofstyle.com.—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: It’s All Greek to Me!

Is it interferon-gamma or interferon-γ? Do we use kappa or κ free light chain? I don’t know—it’s all Greek to me! If you’re like me, you struggle with whether to use Greek words or letters.  Test your knowledge on the usage of Greek letters vs words by selecting which italicized term is correct in the following sentence. For further explanation of the correct answer, refer to chapter 17 (pp 781-783 in print). Then check out this month’s quiz, which subscribers can find at http://www.amamanualofstyle.com/ for more questions.

An elevated serum alpha-fetoprotein or α-fetoprotein level before orthotopic liver transplantation is predictive of mortality after orthotopic liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma.

So, what do you think? Would you use alpha-fetoprotein or α-fetoprotein? Here’s the answer (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

An elevated serum α-fetoprotein level before orthotopic liver transplantation is predictive of mortality after orthotopic liver transplantation for hepatocellular carcinoma.

The AMA Manual of Style recommends the use of Greek letters rather than spelled-out words, unless usage dictates otherwise. Consult Dorland’s and Stedman’s medical dictionaries for general terms. These sources may differ in the representation of terms, ie, α-fetoprotein (Stedman’s) and alpha fetoprotein (Dorland’s). If the Greek letter, rather than the word, is found in either of these sources for the item in question, use the letter in preference to the word (§17.1, Greek Letter vs Word, p 781 in print).

If you want to learn more about usage of Greek letters vs words, take the full quiz on the AMA Manual of Style online—Laura King, MA, ELS

Quiz Bowl: Statistical Terms

What’s the difference between an α level and a β level? Do you know your y-axis from your x-axis from your z-axis? What term means the spread or dispersion of data? This month’s quiz, which subscribers can find at http://www.amamanualofstyle.com/, can help you learn the answers to these and other questions on statistical terms. On the basis of your understanding of section 20.9 of the AMA Manual of Style, select the correct answer from the choices listed in the following sample quiz question.

Which of the following terms means the correlation coefficient for bivariate analysis?
r
R
r2
R2

So, how did you do? Here’s the answer (use your mouse to highlight the blank line):

Which of the following terms means the correlation coefficient for bivariate analysis?
r

R is the correlation coefficient for multivariate analysis. r2 is the coefficient of determination for bivariate analysis. R2 is the coefficient to determination for multivariate analysis.

If you want to further test your knowledge of statistical terms, 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