Questions From Users of the Manual

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

One thought on “Questions From Users of the Manual

  1. Regarding the question of black and white in referring to ethnicities, the confusion arises, I think, because African-American and Caucasian are capp’d. It’s my understanding that when anything (ethnic origin, disease name, etc.) includes a proper name — person, place, etc. — it’s capped. (I recently double-checked Caucasian and did find that it originates from the Caucases/sp, so that qualifies as well.)

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