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Medical Style

Medical Style

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Medical Style

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  1. Medical Style C507 Scientific Writing Session 10

  2. Definition of Style • The word “Style,” when applied to writing, pertains not only to writing style but also to the basic organization of a scientific paper or other publication, the editorial style of the journal or publisher, and the typographical style of the publisher or printer

  3. Science Writing is Distinctive • In 2 different ways • First, it should be simple and clear; clarity is the essential goal • Gettysburg Address- 267 words total, 196 of which were one syllable • Second, organization is important • Each paper type organized in the same way

  4. General Advice on Style • Use the first person (“I” or “we’) for describing what you • Use the active voice in preference to the passive voice • “X crossed the membrane,” instead of • “The membrane was crossed by X.”

  5. General Advice on Style • Use the past tense for observations, completed actions and specific conclusions • Use the present tense for generalizations and statements of general validity

  6. General Advice on Style • Avoid “gobbledygook” jargon and other “pompous use of long words, circumlocution and other linguistic flatulence.” • Specialist jargon is at times necessary but is easily overdone, ie, the listing terminology of Gonstead technique, which is to me goobledygook but is clear to those in the know

  7. General Advice on Style • If you are an ESL author, don’t apply the same principles of style when you write in English as are used in your language

  8. Problems of Grammar and Style • There are 4 principles one can use for solving problems of style (Woodford 1968) • Be simple and concise • Make sure of the meaning of every word • Use verbs instead of abstract nouns • Break up noun clusters and “stacked” modifiers

  9. Grammar! • Parallelism- this refers to the logical construction of sentences • For example: “First, we must run hard. Secondly, we must run fast.”

  10. Agreement of Subject and Verbs • Singular subjects take singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs • Usually, most verbs have a form, ending in “s,” that goes with singular subjects • “She runs.” • They have another form, without the “s,” that goes with plural subjects • “They run.”

  11. Agreement of Subject and Verbs • The rule is not rigid • A series of experiments (was, were) performed • A number of experiments (was, were performed) • Both appear singular, but in the first, the word “series” refers to a group of experiments so the singular verb would be used: “was” • In the second, number appears singular but is certainly more than one and so we use the plural form: “were”

  12. Agreement of Subject and Verbs • Another example: • A bunch of grapes (is, are) on the table • A bunch of apples (is, are) on the table • Grapes come in bunches, a connected group, so is singular: “is” • Apples grow as singles, so a bunch of them is plural: “are”

  13. Split Infinitives • An infinitive verb form with an element, usually an adverb, interposed between to and the verb form, as in to boldly go • These can be used in moderation, and at times it is hard to rewrite and make the new sentence keep the sense of the old

  14. Split Infinitives • For Example: “I fail to completely understand rigid rules” is a split infinitive, but try to rewrite: • “I fail completely to understand rigid rules” • “I fail to understand completely rigid rules” • “I fail to understand rigid rules completely”

  15. Double Negatives • Don’t use no double negatives! Usually… • “Ain’t nobody around here who knows nuthin’ about nuthin’ nohow” is perfectly clear… • And we know what we mean when we say “ I ain’t got no money” • But this can sometimes be hidden

  16. Syntax • This is the branch of grammar dealing with word order: • “I knew a man with a wooden leg named George” • “He was the leader of a political party that said he could best handle the coming chaos under his leadership”

  17. The Fundamental Principle of Syntax • Modifiers should be as close as possible to the words, phrases, or clauses they modify • This is logical; if words relate to one another, they should be close to one another

  18. The Fundamental Principle of Syntax • When we forget the rule, we will dangle participles: • “While having lunch, the reaction mixture exploded.” • “In analyzing the data statistically, the S. typhimurium infections were indeed rare.” • These mistakes abound in scientific publication

  19. The Fundamental Principle of Syntax • Single words, usually adverbs, can cause problems if the writer is careless about where such words are inserted in the sentence. Consider: • “Only I hit him in the eye yesterday” • I only hit him in the eye yesterday” • I hit only him in the eye yesterday” • I hit him only in the eye yesterday” • Etc. and see how the meaning changes?

  20. The Fundamental Principle of Syntax • Not only is “only” a word to watch, so is “just” • Just today we visited my aunt • Today just we visited my aunt • Today we just visited my aunt • Today we visited just my aunt • Today we visited my just aunt

  21. The Fundamental Principle of Syntax • There is $1000 difference between: • I almost wrote a check for $1000 • I wrote a check for almost $1000

  22. The Fundamental Principle of Syntax • So, do we really need to pay attention to syntax? • I went to a town that was 20 miles away on Tuesday

  23. There’s the Rub • Try not to start a sentence with the word “there” • There is nothing wrong with starting a sentence with the word “there… oops! • Nothing is wrong with a sentence beginning with “there”

  24. Words • “Long words name little things. All big things have little names, such as life and death, peace and war, or dawn, day night, love, home. Learn to use little words in a big way. It is hard to do. But they say what you mean. When you don’t know what you mean, use big words. They often fool little people.”

  25. Words • English is a wonderful language, where many words can be used with great precision. Some words have unique meaning, but others are more nebulous. • Usually we choose among words that are essentially synonymous- and when doing so- choose the common or short word

  26. Choice of Words • Here are examples of the daunting nature of English • Over sight- may mean responsibility or lack of it • Valuable and invaluable mean the same thing • A reckless driver is not likely to be a wreckless driver • In spite of the oddities, we can use English reasonably if we use the short word, the known word, the word with certain meaning

  27. Choice of Words • When we were in high school we were likely taught to vary words for the sake of variety. This is fine for literary writing. • In science, this is not fine. Every variation can be confusing, and even more so to those non-natives who are struggling with English

  28. Metaphors • Use them sparingly • We risk losing comprehension of our readers when we use words in other than their literal meanings • Non-native speakers may have no clue what we mean • If used, don’t mix metaphors

  29. Metaphors • Examples of mixed metaphors: • There are a lot of shaky knees with clay feet on thin ice • If this thing starts to snowball, it will catch fire anywhere • If Lincoln were alive today, he’d roll over in his grave- Gerald Ford

  30. The Parts of Speech • The taxonomy of English words is relatively simple for our half million English words • There are really nine taxonomic pigeonholes • Nouns Pronouns • Verbs Adjectives • Adverbs Conjunctions • Prepositions Interjections • Articles

  31. Nouns • A noun is a word for a person, place, thing or idea…usually • Because, there are always exceptions to every rule when it comes to grammar, so remember this for every kind of word

  32. Types of Nouns • There are 2 types of nouns: • Proper- includes specific persons (Robert Rowell), places (Davenport), things (Palmer Center) and ideas (Rationalism) • Common- is any noun except a proper noun

  33. Two Useful Rules • Proper nouns are virtually always capitalized, whereas common nouns are not • Proper nouns, being specific, are usually singular; common nouns may be either singular or plural • Derivatives of proper nouns are also capitalized, ie. American, from America

  34. Two Useful Rules • This distinction is important in science, for reasons not so apparent • Generic names versus proprietary names • Doxycycline/tetracycline • Makers of machine versus machines • Xerox/photocopier • Scientific names of organisms versus vernacular names • Streptococcus/streptococci

  35. Common Nouns • Can be Concrete: those persons, places or things we can detect with our senses • Can be Abstract: nouns, usually ideas or concepts, not directly detected by our senses • This is not a problem in scientific writing

  36. Collective and Mass Nouns • Collective noun: indicates a group or collection of persons, places, things, or qualities • Examples are: audience, committee, personnel, army, class • The general rule is that such nouns are plural in meaning but singular in form • The audience is restless • The couple owns a a condominium

  37. Collective and Mass Nouns • The rule often breaks down. Whenever the individuality of the members of a group is emphasized, the plural form of the verb is used • The couple do not live together • The committee of scientists were from several scientific disciplines

  38. Collective and Mass Nouns • The best rule for handling collective nouns is to decide whether the meaning is singular or plural • Which is correct: • A total of 48 petri dishes were in the autoclave • A total of 48 petri dishes was in the autoclave

  39. Collective and Mass Nouns • Another collective noun that creates problems is “number” • A number of test tubes is on the table? • A number of test tubes are on the table? • The second is correct, since it is tubes that are plural here • But, “the number of test tubes on the table is four” is correct

  40. Collective and Mass Nouns • Mass noun: a concrete noun that represents a mass rather than countable units. • Mass nouns are singular; many do not have plurals (ie, air, water, wheat)

  41. Collective and Mass Nouns • One of the most common grammatical errors is the misuse of the mass noun “amount” in place of the word “number” • “An amount of people” is poor grammar because people are countable individuals

  42. Collective and Mass Nouns • A related problem is the choice between “fewer” and “less” • We use “less” to modify nouns that can’t be counted: “This beer has less taste” • We use “fewer” to modify a noun with countable units: “This beer has fewer calories”

  43. Functions of Nouns • Nouns usually do something or something is done to them • A noun that does something is the subject of the sentence • If something is done to the noun, it is the object of a verb or preposition (a word used to relate a noun or a pronoun to some other part of the sentence) • John hit the ball • John hit the nail on the head

  44. Functions of Nouns • In some sentences, nouns don’t do anything nor is anything done to them • Such sentences usually present definitions or characteristics of these nouns. • Typically these sentences contain some form of the linking verb to be • Penicillin is an antibiotic • Scientists are nice people

  45. Pronouns • A pronoun is a word used to replace a noun; the noun that the pronoun replaces is called the antecedent • Pronouns can be tricky since there are 6 types of them and they have different forms • Personal • Demonstrative • Relative • Interrogative • Indefinite • Reflexive

  46. Pronouns • The antecedent of a pronoun must agree in number with the pronoun, ie, a singular pronoun must have a singular antecedent • If a pitcher wins 20 games, will their value to the team increase? • I see this frequently with the use of “he/her” or “the patient” and “their” in scientific writing

  47. Pronouns • Make sure that the antecedents of your pronouns are clear • “When Lady Carruthers smashed the traditional bottle of champagne against the hull of the ship, she slipped down the runway, gained speed, rocketed into the water with a gigantic spray, and continued unchecked toward Prince Island.”

  48. Personal Pronouns • A personal pronoun replaces a “person” noun. • The form of the noun changes depending on whether the pronoun is used as a subject, an object, or a possessive

  49. Personal Pronouns • The personal pronouns are: • I, me, my, mine • You, your, yours • He, him, his • She, her, hers • It, its • We, us our, ours • They, them their, theirs

  50. Personal Pronouns • You are wise to examine each pronoun to make sure it has an appropriate antecedent • No one yet had demonstrated the structure of the human kidney, Vesalius having examined them only in dogs