From the Editors… AMA Style: Tips and Tricks

The do’s and don’ts in medical writing  
02 August 2019
WMW Editorial Team

Even the most experienced medical writers and editors will have questions about AMA Style. Being able to consult a trusted resource, whether it’s the AMA Manual of Style itself, or the AMA website/blog is vital for quickly answering those pesky questions about punctuation, capitalization, spacing, and so on. Some of the tenets of AMA Style, however, are more important to internalize than others, including the manual’s section on correct and preferred usage.

Below, we’d like to highlight some common perspectives on editing:

  • Adjectives such as abnormal, normal, negative, or positive do not necessarily apply to laboratory studies, rather they apply to the observations, results, or findings of those studies
  • A patient is a person under medical care. A subject is a person on a clinical trial. A case is an instance of a disease.
    • Clients have preferences for their clinical trials and writers should work to remain consistent for their clients
    • In addition, narratives usually should not refer to patients as cases unless describing a case-control study
  • Patients are not diagnosed, but their conditions may be diagnosed. You might say, “patients diagnosed as having,” instead of “patients diagnosed with”
  • The term side effect is often used incorrectly when adverse effect, adverse event, or adverse reaction is intended. Side effects can be harmful or beneficial, so it’s important to use specific terminology
    • Side effect might occasionally be used as common terminology for the lay person, for instance, in an Informed Consent Form (ICF)
  • Toxic means: pertaining to or caused by a poison or toxin. Toxicity, however, is the quality, state, or degree of being poisonous
  • Persons die of, not from, specific diseases and disorders
    • “due to” is an acceptable alternative to “of”
  • Doctor is a more general term than physician because it includes persons who hold such degrees as PhD, DDS, EdD, DVM, and PharmD. The term physician should be used when referring specifically to a Doctor of Medicine or osteopathy (ie, a person with an MD or a DO degree)

Learning how to correctly use specific medical terminology can vastly improve your skills as both a writer and editor. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that consistency, according to AMA, journal style, or client preference, is key to effective medical writing. Although we’ve covered only a few of the interesting usage issues defined by the AMA Manual of Style, we’ve found that they are some of the more useful to keep in mind, especially for those just entering the field.

Stay tuned in!

Want more tips and tricks on AMA style? Keep checking for more newsletter

AMA website/blog

Back to Posts