The “Asterisk Solution,” or Group Authorship Is Still Authorship

Authors may come alone or in pairs or trios. Or more. Today, more and more frequently, they come as part of a group. There is nothing wrong with group authorship—groups can accomplish great things. But if a group is named in the byline as sole author or in addition to individually named authors, all members of the group are still being presented as authors and all must meet authorship requirements.

This is a point of contention or difficulty for some authors (or some groups), who wish to have only the name of the group in the byline even if only a small number of the members of the group (eg, the Writing Committee) meet the standards of authorship set forth by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and outlined on the authorship forms required by our journals.

What to do? The AMA Manual of Style lists an option to address both concerns: (1) authors who want only a group name to appear in the byline, even if all members of the group do not meet authorship criteria, and (2) journals that want to adhere to the criteria for authorship outlined by the ICMJE. Let’s call this the “asterisk solution.” An asterisk is placed after the group name in the byline, and this links to an asterisked footnote that indicates which members of the group met authorship criteria.

The asterisk solution often is a happy one for both authors and journal editors (and it allows readers to see who the true authors are). But sometimes even the asterisk is objected to. The editors of 3 ophthalmology journals (Archives of Ophthalmology, American Journal of Ophthalmology, and Ophthalmology) found strength in numbers. In August 2010, the 3 editors published a jointly written editorial in each of their journals, outlining the “asterisk solution” policy from the AMA Manual of Style and announcing that they planned to hold firm to this policy in their journals.

Being an author is a form of recognition and can add to one’s reputation. It also represents a responsibility. The asterisk solution bestows recognition and responsibility with a single character.—Cheryl Iverson, MA

Envy, Jealousy

Words that convey similar meanings sometimes come to be used interchangeably. In the case of envy/envious and jealousy/jealous, though, the move seems to have been in one direction only; jealousy is often used in place of envy (“I’m so jealous of your new job”) but not vice-versa (one does not write, for example, “He was poisoned by his envious wife.”). Theodore Bernstein further points out that jealousy is sometimes used, not merely in place of envy, but as a stronger form: “‘There, within a stone’s throw of the sea, he makes his home, and his description of how he does this makes one move from envy to downright jealousy.’”1 A human, and perhaps all-too-familiar, state of affairs—anyone who denies having experienced such a progression of emotion is either hopelessly out of touch with his or her feelings or a liar.

However, although jealous has been used in place of envious since the late 1300s2 and using jealous as a more intense form of envious creates no confusion, it is often held that the words have distinct meanings and that this distinction should be maintained. Even authorities sometimes flounder around a bit when trying to nail the distinction,3 but in general envy is taken to convey a coveting of the wealth, possessions, or success of someone else,4 whereas jealousy is often taken to convey a state of “intolerance of a rival for the possession of a thing which one regards as peculiarly one’s own or for the winning of which one has set one’s heart….”4 Jealousy also can be used in a less grasping sense to indicate the understandable guarding of some possession or attribute, as in “new colonies were jealous of their new independence.”5 Both of the latter meanings highlight that jealousy concerns an attitude toward something that one has or believes one has. In this sense, envious and jealous are not interchangeable—one can jealously guard something, but one cannot enviously guard something.

However, jealous also often carries a frank note of hostility, “a strong implication of distrust, suspicion, enviousness, or sometimes anger.4 This might suggest why the person seeking a word with a bit more heft than envious will sometimes use jealous instead—quite simply, when casting about for a suitably malicious word in the heat of the moment, jealous is low-hanging fruit.

On the other hand, envy is not the innocuous little milquetoast that it at first seems. True, it can be used without malice; one can say, for example, “I don’t envy him his mother in law.” Equally true, it has in the past been used in a noble sense—Aristotle wrote of “good envy,” an admiration that drives one to emulate another3—although that usage has been rare since the 1600s and is now nearly obsolete.6 Certainly, envy carries less emotional charge than jealousy. But to assume that envy is simply a meek cousin of jealousy is to make a mistake.

If jealousy implies strong emotion that often is perhaps all too apparent to everyone involved, envy can imply something more clandestine; as Joseph Epstein puts it, “Malice that cannot speak its name, cold-blooded but secret hostility, impotent desire, hidden rancor, and spite all cluster at the center of envy.”3 Used in this sense, envy suddenly becomes a different animal altogether, and, as Epstein further points out, “The openness changes the nature of the game. Envy is almost never out in the open; it is secretive, plotting, behind the scenes.”3 Perhaps this is another reason that jealousy is often used, albeit subconsciously, in place of envy—after all, envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins; jealousy is not.

In short, although envy and jealousy have long been used interchangeably and jealousy has come to be frequently used in place of envy, the words do denote different states, and the careful writer should take care to maintain the distinction between them. Both can be used in neutral ways (“She was jealous of her honor”; “I don’t envy him his workload”), but both also can carry weightier meanings; in choosing between them, one might keep in mind that “The real distinction is that one is jealous of what one has, envious of what other people have.”3

The bottom line:

● Looking for a word that expresses the coveting of what someone else has? Use envy.

● Looking for a word that expresses the guarding of what one has or believes one has? Use jealousy.

● Keep in mind that although jealousy is often used as a more intense form of envy, it might be better to use another word or to reword the sentence so as to retain envy.—Phil Sefton, ELS

 

1. Envy, jealousy. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:166-167.

2. Jealous. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:892.

3. Epstein J. The green-eyed monster: envy is nothing to be jealous of. Washington Monthly website. http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0307.epstein.html. July/August 2003. Accessed December 13, 2011.

4. Envious, jealous. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms. Springfield, MA; Merriam-Webster Inc; 1984:295.

5. Jealous. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:671.

6. Envy. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:523.

Ode to the Style Manual

(A poem from a hardcore user of the AMA Manual.) (No, not the cat.)

I study the Manual each day and each night

Coming away with equal questions and answers

Seeking all ways to be right

Are you a temporary compound, both sides with a tall, proud face
or are you with us permanently but deserve only lower case.

Are you a word just colloquial–or maybe even worse–

The ever-intrusive –ology (ie, completely perverse)

Have you been with us 5 times or more

Making a point so precise and succinct

Or are you here fewer times but wind up using more ink

It’s often exhausting, I must admit

I feel like I’m chasing elusive catnip

Each time I move close to the intoxicating scent

I discover new Elements that were recently sent

They arrive in my inbox with regular speed

And though I accept them, I must concede

I’d rather they land in another box I need

I give up and lay (or lie?) down

Staring off into space

Who knew that reading required such mental pace

But eventually I notice the pillow I chose

The source of all I have said

Provides a solid foundation from which to function

Indeed, a good place for my head

Finally

I must admit to own

The penultimate of nerdity

In my discomfort with the structure of

A poem on editing’s absurdity—Donna J. Thordsen

Masterful, Masterly

Writers are often taught that masterful and masterly mean different things and to ensure that they are used correctly. Masterful, so such thinking goes, is taken to mean “suggestive of a domineering nature,” or “inclined and [usually] competent to act as master,”1 whereas masterly is used to denote “having the power and skill of a master.”1

However, the use of masterful to mean “skillful” is now widespread; as Bernstein, clearly a proponent of maintaining the distinction, pithily puts it, “masterly is never misused; masterful often is….”2 Moreover, it seems that the distinction has not always been observed. Whereas masterful has been used in the sense of “domineering” since the 1330s,3 it also was used to mean “skillful” as early as 1613.3 And whereas masterly was used in the sense of “skillful” since the mid 1600s,3 it also was used to mean “domineering” as early as the 1530s,3 although that use has been obsolete since the late 18th century.3

In short, both words have been used to indicate “skillful” since roughly the time of King James I of England. However, the idea that writers should distinguish between them is comparatively new1—and such a late addition of a distinction is the reverse of the more common case, in which a distinction between words ceases to hold sway as the language evolves.

The origin of the distinction? Merriam-Websters posits that it was “excogitated by a 20th century pundit”1—this “pundit” apparently none other than Henry Watson Fowler, editor of The Pocket Oxford Dictionary, coeditor of The Concise Oxford Dictionary and The King’s English, and author of A Dictionary of Modern English Usage.4 In the latter work, Fowler established a distinction between masterful and masterly that was taken up by authorities such as Bernstein2 and that continues to be trumpeted to this day.5 Fowler’s reason for introducing the distinction? Masterly has only 1 sense (at least since its use to mean “domineering” became obsolete), so masterful should be limited to a single sense as well.1

However, some also have argued for the use of masterful in place of masterly in adverbial constructions, pointing out that although masterly is properly used as an adverb as well as an adjective, its use as an adverb seems awkward, even incorrect; eg, “He paints masterly.”2 Moreover, masterly, like many words ending in “y,” is what Bernstein (who nevertheless advocates distinguishing between the words) calls a “reluctant” adverb—ie, a word that resists serving as or being turned into an adverb.6 To make matters worse, masterly takes another adverbial form, the admittedly horrid masterlily.

Where does this leave the conscientious writer? Like Fowler, several modern authorities deem the distinction a valuable one5 and often advocate recasting a sentence to allow a more mellifluous use of a reluctant adverb5,6: hence, the sentence “Its wooden gables… showed how masterly they had been carved of old”3 might be recast as “Its wooden gables… showed the masterly manner in which they had been carved of old,” or similar. “A retreat of this kind,” Bernstein maintains, “is better than clumsy bravado.”6

At least one like-minded authority, however, has conceded that the battle to maintain the distinction—whatever its merits—has likely been lost.5 The prevalence of masterful in everyday usage confirms that opinion, receiving further support from the fact that the words have developed in roughly parallel fashion over time.3 Merriam-Websters concurs, maintaining that masterful used in the sense of “skillful” “has continued in reputable use all along; it cannot rationally be called an error.”1 Moreover, it has been suggested that using masterful in its original sense might even confuse readers now accustomed to the use of masterful to mean “skillful.”7

The bottom line:

● Using masterful in place of masterly to mean “skillful”? You’re in good company, and that usage has a long history. However:

● Set on maintaining a distinction between masterful and masterly? You can’t go wrong there, either. True enough, some readers might be confused by the use of masterful in its original sense—but since when do writers shrink from using words correctly to avoid confusion?—Phil Sefton, ELS

1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:764.

2. Masterful, masterly. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:269.

3. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:1045.

4. Sheidlower J. Elegant variation and all that. The Atlantic Online Web site. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/96dec/fowler/fowler.htm. December 1996. Accessed September 16, 2011.

5. Masterful, masterly. Good English Rules! Web site. http://www.goodenglishrules.com/masterful_masterly.htm. Accessed September 16, 2011.

6. Adverbs, reluctant. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:27.

7. Masterful vs. masterly. Grammarist Web site. http://www.grammarist.com/usage/masterful-masterly/. Accessed September 16, 2011.

Purposely, Purposefully

These words sound similar, and over time their meanings have come to overlap somewhat. Generally, however, they are regarded as having different meanings and uses—although the differences are admittedly subtle—and in choosing between them, writers should carefully consider the message they wish to convey.

Purposely—meaning “with a deliberate or express purpose”1 or “intentionally”2—was first on the scene, entering usage in the late 1400s.2 A second meaning, “to good purpose; effectively,” came into use about 100 years later but is now considered obsolete.2

In contrast, purposefully—meaning “full of determination”1—was a relative latecomer, not coming into use until the mid 1800s,2 and is still used in those senses. Over time, though, purposefully also has come to be used interchangeably with purposely in the sense of “intentionally,”2 perhaps because something done with determination is also done intentionally. But of course the reverse is not necessarily true, which suggests that writers should use purposely when referring to intention alone.

To some ears, however, purposely sounds uneducated or incorrect, leading some writers to instead use purposefully in error; moreover, writers simply looking for a more impressive word will also sometimes instead use purposefully—again incorrectly.3 But even when purposefully is the correct choice, writers should take care that their intended meaning is not misconstrued. For example, the statement “On occasion, a clinician might purposely elicit pain” likely simply means that the clinician is intentionally eliciting pain (for the purpose of making a diagnosis). On the other hand, the statement “On occasion, a clinician might purposefully elicit pain” might imply that the clinician is determinedly eliciting pain (again—one can only hope—for the purpose of making a diagnosis). In both instances, careful handling of the context can make clear that the elicitation of pain is a necessary evil in service of a worthy end. For example, simply ending either of the above statements with “to help make a diagnosis” can go a long way toward ensuring that the clinician is not construed as something of a sadist.

The bottom line:

●Is “intentionally” the intended message? Use purposely.

●Is “full of determination” the intended message? Use purposefully.

●In both cases, however, take care to ensure that the context helps readers determine the intended meaning.—Phil Sefton, ELS

1. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 2003:1011.

2. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1991:1474.

3. Purposefully, purposely. In: Bernstein TM. The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage. New York, NY: Athaneum; 1985:376.

Jarring Jargon

Theodore M. Bernstein, in The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage, describes jargon as “meaningless, unintelligible speech,” which is how some people might describe their last conversation with their physician. In science and medicine, many barriers to clear communication exist, with jargon being one of them. In fact, it’s so difficult for physicians and patients to communicate clearly that a federal program has been created to promote simplified health-related language nationwide. The Health Literacy Action Plan is a “national action plan to improve health literacy.” The entire action plan is 73 pages (which is probably their first mistake) and it highlights the fact that we have a problem.

As editors, we know that jargon is to be avoided in medical literature. While jargon may evolve for the most innocuous of reasons, it is a vocabulary specific to a profession that sometimes is esoteric or pretentious and that can be confusing to those not familiar with it (sometimes to those familiar with it as well). “Inside talk” can be just that by design—it keeps outsiders out. Therein lies the source of the negative feelings about jargon.

In addition to being exclusive, some jargon is offensive and unprofessional. Have you ever seen an FLK? Probably. That’d be a funny-looking kid. “We bagged her in the ER” sounds ominous; what it means is that a patient was given ventilatory assistance with a bag-valve-mask prior to intubation in the emergency department. Hopefully the emergency department physician didn’t describe the patient as a GOMER. This means “get out of my emergency room” and could refer to, for instance, an elderly patient who is demented or unconscious and near death and who perhaps should die peacefully rather than occupy emergency department resources. In this example, jargon diminishes the complexity of a situation that should be dealt with in a more thoughtful way. As Bernstein writes, “All the words that describe the kinds of specialized language that fall within this classification [of inside talk] have connotations that range from faintly to strongly disparaging.”

Jargon also sometimes violates rules of grammar, eg, turning nouns into verbs, “The doctor scoped the patient,” or creating back-formations, like “The patient’s extremities were cyanosed,” instead of “The patient’s extremities showed signs of cyanosis.” Jargon can sometimes appear to depersonalize, by defining a person in terms of a disease. A “bypassed patient” may be one who has undergone coronary artery bypass graft surgery rather than one who has been overlooked. Sometimes, patients might be referred to by their organs, such as “the lung in room 502” instead of “the patient in room 502 with lung disease.”

The AMA Manual of Style lists examples of jargon to avoid in section 11.4, Jargon. Some other examples that we’ve collected over the years are listed here:

* Collodion baby is better phrased as collodion baby phenotype or “the infant had a collodion membrane at birth.”

* Surgeons perform operations or surgical procedures, not surgeries.

* Rather than say a patient has a complaint, describe the patient’s primary concern.

* Do not use shorthand (eg, exam for examination, preemie for premature infant, prepped for prepared).

* Euphemisms sometimes are not clear and should be avoided: “The patient died” is preferred to “The patient succumbed or expired”; the same holds true for killed vs sacrificed (in discussion of animal subjects).

* Patients aren’t “put on” medication, they’re treated with medication. Also, patients aren’t “placed on” ventilators, they’re given ventilatory assistance.

Certainly jargon does have its place. It is specialized, and those in the same field can use it to communicate precisely and quickly. However, when it comes to medical and scientific publications, jargon is best avoided. Bernstein ends his entry on “inside talk” with the following: “It must never be forgotten that the function of writing is communication.” Clear enough.—Lauren Fischer

Statistical Rounding and the (Mis)Leading Zero

Sometimes editors (not you or I, of course) obey the rules of their institution’s preferred style manual without fully understanding, or really thinking about, why some of these rules exist. For example, some editors (not you or I, of course) automatically delete (or, if they’re lucky, their editing program deletes for them) the leading zero in a few statistics, but not all. They know exactly when and where to delete the leading zero, but not why. Or they round some statistics, but not all, assuming that all of this has something to do with saving space. It does, of course,1(p830) but this isn’t the only reason we do it.

The AMA Manual of Style defines a P value as “The probability of obtaining the observed data (or data that are more extreme) if the null hypothesis were exactly true.”1(p888) Per AMA style, P values greater than .01 are expressed to a maximum of 2 decimal places and those less than .01 are expressed to a maximum of 3 decimal places. I set out in search of the complicated statistical reason why we use this specific number of decimal places and found that, in addition to saving space, we do it for one simple reason: it’s all we need. Yep, that’s it. It’s all we need to know. P < .00000001 doesn’t tell us any more of value than P < .001. Both tell us that the probability is very low, and that’s good enough. Of course, if the author protests or rounding will make P appear nonsignificant, an exception is made (for example, if P = .046 and significance is set at P = .05).1(pp851-852) Also, studies such as genome-wide association studies report P values of P < .00001 or smaller, often in scientific notation, to address the issue of multiple comparisons; it is essential not to round these. So every rule has exceptions, I guess (remember Spanish class, anyone?).

Why then, you ask, do we not save ourselves the confusion and simply round P < .001 to P = .00? There’s a reason for that, too, and it’s the same reason we don’t use leading zeros with certain probability statistics (ah, you say, it all comes together). If probability is the chance that a given event will occur,2 and we have only surveyed a sample of a given population, probability cannot equal 1.0 or 0 because we can’t say absolutely that a null hypothesis will definitely or definitely not happen in that population.1(p889) And if P can’t equal 1.0 or 0, why include a zero that doesn’t tell us anything new? For this reason, we use P > .99 and P < .001 as the highest and lowest P values. For the same reason, and because they are used often, the leading zero rule applies to α and β probabilities as well. Why? To save space, of course.–Roya Khatiblou, MA

1. Iverson C, Christiansen S, Flanagin A, et al. AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 10th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2007.

2. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster Inc; 1997.

Abbreviation Nation

Of the reference books I use while editing the Archives journals, my favorite by far is MEDical ABBREViations: 28,000 Conveniences at the Expense of Communication and Safety, 13th Edition, by Neil M. Davis. Not only does it have the most wonderfully snarky title I’ve ever seen on a reference book, but it is the Great Decoder, the book that allows me to make sense of the myriad abbreviations I run across in my daily work.

As much as we are a nation of people who speak largely in cliches and mixed metaphors (I will save my rant about the overused and incorrect “magic bullet” for another day), we are a nation of overabbreviators. The number of organizations that are known by their abbreviation are too many to quantify (NFL, AMA, NORAD). We put out APBs, send out CVs, take our OTC meds, surf our Macs and PCs, and occasionally go AWOL. But when you think about it, do these mean anything? A National Football League is a thing. An NFL is not. What about an AC? Is it an air conditioner? An alternating current? Atlantic City? Though sometimes context can tell us what an abbreviation means, just as often it cannot, and it’s my job to sort these out.

As someone who previously tried to argue that texting is a valid and efficient method of communicating, it may seem hypocritical for me to do a mental fist pump every time I read Mr Davis’ snappy title, but I do. It’s because for every abbreviation that I find easily in my AMA Manual of Style or my MED ABBREV, there are so many that I must ask authors about. This worries me, because I don’t think authors would put these in their articles if they weren’t  routinely used. And though they and their colleagues and most of the American medical community may know exactly what they mean, will readers in Zimbabwe, Thailand, or Argentina? Those readers may have their own set of metaphors, jargon, and abbreviations that makes perfect sense to them. Or they may be students who don’t come across them every day. What happens when we let them slide, or when a journal doesn’t have finicky, know-it-all editors to question them? I worry that it will make journals less accessible, and that it will make medical discourse less accessible. I hate the idea of a medical student somewhere in the world not being able to use one of our articles in his research because I didn’t feel like finding out what something means. And believe me, sometimes I don’t feel like it. But I know I must be persistent, as annoying as it feels to harass a busy professional about something that seems so trivial. And that medical student out there better appreciate it.—Roya Khatiblou, MA

Go, Embargo, Go

So what’s an embargo, anyway? There’s the economic trade kind, but let’s stick to the news kind (much more relevant for AMA Style Insider readers). I spoke with Jann Ingmire, the JAMA and Archives Journals media relations guru, and she explained that embargoes exist primarily to give reporters the opportunity to cover a story in a more thorough way.

Here’s how they work: Embargoed material is released to members of the press prior to being released to the public, usually a few days early. This gives reporters time to do research, conduct interviews, and write a really great piece. When the embargo lifts, journalists are already prepared to report on newly published scientific studies.

Most of the time, the system works, but occasionally, an embargo is broken. Ms. Ingmire said she tries to give reporters the benefit of the doubt because, usually, it’s simple human error. Sometimes, though, the embargo break is flagrant. When this happens, reporters are sanctioned and stop receiving embargoed material.

Embargoes make it possible for everyone—from the independent blogger to the major media outlet—to have the same opportunity to gather a story. If you want to learn more, read embargowatch.wordpress.com, a blog that chronicles how embargoes affect news coverage.—Lauren Fischer

Dr Readability: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pronoun

In academic writing, the current modus operandi seems to be: the more words the better. Why say “children” when we can say “individuals of pediatric age”? Why “time” when “period of time” sounds so much more substantial? Strunk and White1 would surely disapprove. Extraneous verbiage may make one’s writing sound lofty and important, but it can muddle one’s message. Writers should not use circuitous, rhetorical language to persuade their readers. Strong, clear writing, without extra baggage, creates a confident tone and allows the reader to more easily understand a work’s significance.

Here are a few ways to clean up one’s writing for easier reading:

Use the pronoun. Use it.

Writers often repeat nouns instead of using pronouns, as writers fear that readers won’t understand what the writers are saying. Not horrible, but is there confusion over what they refers to in this revised sentence: “Writers often repeat nouns instead of using pronouns, as they fear that readers won’t understand what they are saying”? Repeating the same word or phrase creates reading fatigue, like listening to someone beat on a drum over and over. Trust that your reader has a longer attention span than the time it takes to read half a sentence and there will be no need to use the same nouns over and over and over…

Here’s an example: “Because many people use vitamin therapy, we must determine the efficacy of vitamin therapy compared with other treatments.”

How about this instead: “Because many people use vitamin therapy, we must determine its efficacy compared with that of other treatments.”

Use the verb.

Editors are in agreement that “to be” constructions are weak and should be replaced with the actual verb. I agree!

Substituting “to be” constructions with actual verbs makes writing stronger and more confident. Researchers often use the phrase, “Our findings are indicative of…” See the “to be” hidden in there? How about “Our findings indicate…”? Were “patients in receipt of the drug” or did they “receive the drug”? Were participants “in attendance” or did they “attend”? The meaning is the same, but the writing sounds a whole lot better with the true verb.

This goes hand in hand with the passive voice. We’re not saying that the passive voice is wrong necessarily, it’s just that it is believed by some people that it is not as strong as it could be. Rather, some people believe that the passive voice is weak. In general, the active voice should be used over the passive voice, especially in cases when the “actor” is present. For example, “Patients were monitored by resident physicians” should be changed to “Resident physicians monitored the patients.”

This is another way to say: Use the delete button.

Close your eyes. Pretend you have a word limit. Now, pretend you have to follow it. Would you rather cut 100 words from the “Results” section or 100 words throughout a manuscript that add nothing of substance substantial? See what I did there?

Here are a few substitutions that reduce wordiness:

–“combined with” instead of “in combination with”
–“important” instead of “of importance”
–“most” instead of “the majority of”
–“can” instead of “is able to”
–“affect” instead of “to have an effect on”

Eliminating exaggerations can also trim one’s writing. How often is quite, very, or rather necessary (or accurate)? Writers should also avoid superlatives like profoundly and significantly when describing a study’s results.

These tips will help eliminate excess verbiage and heighten readability while preserving meaning. What is there to be afraid of fear?—Laura Adamczyk

[author’s note: Some of these ideas came from lectures by Northwestern University professor Bill Savage, PhD.]
1. Strunk W Jr, White EB. The Elements of Style. 4th ed. New York, NY: Longman; 1999.