Olivia Wroth (B Vet Science, Dip Editing & Publishing) has worked in medical writing and editing for 25 years. She practised as a vet for 10 years before moving into medical and veterinary editing and publishing. Olivia has worked for MIMS for 24 years managing their veterinary publications. She also worked with the Medical Journal of Australia for 8 years editing journal articles. Her current clients also include NSW Health; Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment; Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine; and Animal Health Australia.
You can book a coaching session with Olivia to tackle general and specific writing problems. This can be casually in-person over coffee and a laptop, or by Zoom. Olivia is in the office at REN on some Wednesdays and Fridays.
Don’t underestimate a comma
They say in publishing that editors put commas in and proofreaders take them out. Commas can be vastly entertaining and controversial in editing circles.
The Oxford comma seems strangely named, as its use is more popular in the US than the UK. It is also known as the Harvard or serial comma.
It is the final comma in a list after the penultimate item, before the ‘and’ of the final item. An example is in ‘the red, blue, and yellow’, which in Australia would generally be set as ‘the red, blue and yellow’.
Some commas are optional and do not contribute much to the meaning of a sentence, merely indicating where to pause or to more clearly separate phrases.
Others are crucial and can completely change the meaning of a sentence if they are missing.
Compare ‘I respect my parents, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’ with ‘I respect my parents, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton’.
An Oxford comma there is essential, unless your parents are an unlikely political duo.
In this space I will be introducing you to the craft of medical writing, one useful tip at a time.
Rules for regimens
What’s the difference between a regimen and a regime?
In the broad sense there’s not much difference between the two words but in common usage the “n” can make a difference.
The terms originate from the Latin “regere”, meaning rule or govern.
Regimen, which travelled from Latin to Middle English, means a prescribed course of medical treatment, diet or exercise.
It can refer to a set of rules or an authority, but is now not usually used in that sense.
Regime (sometimes written as the French “régime”) generally denotes a form of rule or government.
It often has a negative connotation and implies an autocratic, authoritarian leadership.
Some countries make a clear distinction between the two usage patterns and others lean more to using one word to cover both meanings.
The words obviously have a lot of overlap in meaning, so using regime when regimen would be better is not a capital offence.
For the purpose of clarity in medical writing for an Australian audience (e.g. grant review panels), it’s best to always use the version with the “n”, unless you’re a principal investigator of the repressive, dictatorial kind.
Put yourself first
Take possession of your research, and of your sentences!
In contemporary medical literature, we are encouraged to use the ‘active voice’ or ‘active construction’, but what does that mean?
It’s easy to change from passive to active sentences if you remember to put yourself first.
This means starting sentences with ‘I’ or ‘we’; for example, ‘We analysed our data . . . ‘ instead of ‘The data were analysed . . . ‘
This often results in the verb being closer to the front in your sentence, which is another positive.
Of course, too many sentences in a row beginning with ‘We’ or ‘I’ can get a bit repetitive.
You will need to mix it up with other sentence constructions so your work doesn’t look like a robot wrote it.
Using the active, personal construction instead of the passive, anonymous construction introduces a livelier, more immediate tone to your writing.
Your readers will be more likely to engage with you and your ideas, which is what you want when grant and journal reviewers are reading your work.
Active sentence construction makes you appear more confident in your writing, your ideas and your results, and you will be a more attractive funding or publishing prospect.
So, as you should in many other aspects of your life, remember to put yourself first.
Splitting hairs and infinitives
What are split infinitives, and do they matter?
We all split our infinitives, often without realising, and it’s generally regarded as okay these days.
The infinitive form of a verb is the ‘to’ form: to be, to go, to watch.
Splitting the infinitive is when you add an adverb or another word between ‘to’ and the verb.
Examples are ‘to really watch’ or ‘to boldly go’ (thanks Star Trek for the classic split infinitive).
In Latin and many other languages the infinitive verb form is one word, but in English it is two.
This means our linguistic predecessors couldn’t split their infinitives…but we can.
And sometimes we should. Consider the subtle but significant difference between the following two sentences.
The unsplit, ‘She really seems to need the cash’ (she genuinely needs money) can have a different meaning from the split, ‘She seems to really need the cash’ (she needs money urgently).
This is because in English the adverb tends to emphasise the word immediately after it: ‘really seems’ versus ‘really need’.
In everyday writing and speaking, we tend not to split our infinitives, but don’t go out of your way to not split them, as it can also make your text clumsy and awkward.
Westmead Hospital library now has a subscription to the Australian manual of style (AMOS) (formerly Australian manual of scientific style).
This is an excellent, easy-to-navigate resource for writers of academic and scientific texts, with ‘practical and expert guidance to help you to present information and data clearly, correctly and effectively’.
You can sign up to the Westmead subscription here. The link will also be added to the library website. You will be sent an email with a link to the sign-on details, which only WSLHD employees will be able to view (through Microsoft 365).
Many thanks to the library staff for enabling our access.
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