Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Check Microsoft Templates for Style Errors

If you’re using standard Microsoft templates for Word documents, you should check the boilerplate for style errors.

For example, you would expect press release templates to follow AP style, but I happened to notice that the Press release (Professional design) boilerplate begins with “Portland, OR, September 23, 2004.” That’s very close to AP style but not quite right. AP prefers standard state abbreviations, unless you’re writing a full postal address.

In other words, the press release boilerplate should begin with “Portland, Ore., September 23, 2004,” in order to match AP style.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Racial Terms

Words, like the people who use them, have a complicated history. Nowhere is that more apparent than when we write and talk about race.

Imagine that you’re asked to review and offer editorial feedback on a set of 30 PowerPoint slides to be projected at a major influenza conference in the United States. The slides will be cycled on a giant screen as several hundred physicians and healthcare workers arrive, mingle, and prepare for the actual conference proceedings.

While reviewing the slides, you notice that quotations are used in the deck, quotations from a physician who worked among the sick and dying of Camp Devens, Massachusetts, during the influenza outbreak of 1918, the worst in American history and responsible for some 600,000 deaths. The Camp's doctor (let's call him Dr Roy) described the cyanosis at Camp Devens as so bad that it was
...hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white.

The quotations are poignant and serious, strategically chosen by the slide deck's author for their emotive effect. The quotations from Dr Roy's letter make perfectly clear the menace, the lethal threat, of influenza in 1918. But the important question that you, the slide deck's editor, should ask is this:

Is it appropriate to use the racial word coloured on slides being presented at a major international influenza meeting?
The racial term coloured (or colored) was originally adopted by emancipated slaves after the American Civil War, but it was superseded in the US in the 1960s by the term black. Some who would describe themselves today as black or African American find the word colored more than simply outdated: It is offensive.

Consider Henry Louis Gates Jr, who wrote in 1969,

My grandfather was colored, my father was a Negro, and I am black.
The word colored signals a particularly difficult past, one marked by the dehumanizing machinery of slavery and segregation. Not surprisingly, Merriam-Webster warns that colored is often offensive; it doesn’t even appear in the list of racial terms provided in the 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style,

...black people, blacks, people of color (usually lowercased when based loosely on color) Negro, Negroes
Nor does the 10th edition of the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style make any provision for the word colored. AMA provides only two possibilities, black and African American (no hyphen), but also warns that African American may be the preferred term (though it should be allowed only for US citizens of African descent).

In its original 1918 context, the word colored as used by Dr Roy at Camp Devens was probably inoffensive, but the word's political and ideological baggage simply cannot be ignored by content developers here and now. Allowing the word colored in your slides, even in quotation, strikes this editor as dangerous.

Read up on the Camp Devens experience: in 10 minutes you'll have enough material to achieve the same profound effect without having to include words with complicated baggage. The slide deck's purpose and audience should guide your editorial judgment, and there's just no reason to risk alienating the audience with a racial qualifier.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

UK Dates

Someone just asked how to format UK dates.

I follow Oxford:
Date: 30 October 2008

Day: Thursday, 30 October 2008

Range: 30–31 October 2008

Note that the range is expressed with an en dash rather than a hyphen.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Clutter: another example

The following sentence appears in a physician bio I've just seen:
His main interests have focused on the role of insulin and the insulin-like growth factors in normal physiology and disease states, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
Please note that a main interest is always already (ie, by definition) an area of focus. Thus, you wouldn't want to describe main interests as focusing on this or that: instead, main interests include.
His main interests include...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Regard or regards?

Thank you for your e-mail. In regards to your question, no, unfortunately that item is currently out of stock.
Is the word regard singular or plural in constructions like the one above?

Regard means attention, which is a noun that English speakers normally don’t count. Thus, attention paid to something—or attention given—will probably never take a final -s. You may pay close attention a number of times to a weaving car on the road in front of you, but you’re not paying attentions to a crazy driver. You’re being careful. You're paying attention. The words attention and regard are synonyms and never take a final -s.

I suspect people say (and write) with regards to and in regards to because they’re thinking of the plural construction used for greetings, as when you say,
Send Barbara my regards, will you?
And this is a perfectly legitimate exception to the no final -s rule. But in the strictest sense, this isn’t an exception: regards (meaning greetings) and regard (meaning attention) are two different words. The second one never takes a plural -s form.

So make a habit of using with regard to or in regard to (or simply concerning). It makes a difference.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More words = greater clarity?

In a paper entitled Concrete spatial language: See what I mean?, Wallentin et al make the following claim:

In general, meaning is most specific when the context is clearly specified. Therefore, the lexical units of language, ie, the words, will have more specific meaning the more context we add.

If I read them right, the authors seem to be saying that words have more specific meaning as more words are added, which you might formulate as specificity is a function of word count or add words to increase clarity, but experience teaches me that this isn't necessarily true.

Epexegesis can be bad for writing, and what Wallentin et al argue can be misunderstood easily—and not because they used too few words to express their idea. The general point they’re making—ie, context is a key component of specific meaning—is perfectly valid, as is illustrated by the following:

  1. That person barely escaped the house fire.
  2. That person—your daughter Sarah—barely escaped the house fire.

From (1) to (2), we’ve added context, which certainly clarifies the meaning of person. But adding words in an attempt to improve clarity can cause much trouble.

In (2), for example, we added your daughter Sarah in order to clarify that person; in doing so, we’ve made the words that person entirely tautologous and thus obsolete. In fact, they should be deleted. It's not a big deal for a single sentence, but imagine this on the scale of a 9-thousand word business proposal or manuscript.

Lexical addition, which is what Wallentin et al are advocating, is probably less helpful for breeding specificity than careful word choice in the first place. And by careful word choice I mean strategic word choice or efficient word choice.

Consider the following passage from the opening pages of Yellow Dog, by Martin Amis:

The couple stood embracing in a high-ceilinged hallway. Now the husband with a movement of the arm caused his keys to sound in their pocket. His half-conscious intention was to signal an impatience to be out. Xan would not publicaly agree, but women naturally like to prolong routine departures. It is the obverse of their fondness for keeping people waiting.

In terms of word choice, there’s a lot here in this small excerpt, but what interests me is Amis’ word choice in obverse. Of all the words a writer might have used here, all the words he could add in an attempt to flesh out what he means, this single word alone strikes me as the perfect choice.

Obverse—it means facing (which also describes Xan and Russia who are embracing); it describes objects turned toward their observer (in this case, both Xan and you and me, ie, the readers); to be obverse is to complement or serve as counterpart; it is the more conspicuous of two alternatives (and in this last sense, I detect a bit of literary irony).

Amis is writing fiction, I know, but his writing illustrates the question that all writers of texts should be asking:

What specific word choice will make my text more clear?

Maximum impact with fewest words. Whether you’re writing a grant request or a business proposal, a white paper or a marketing slogan, efficiency is key.

And honestly, you really can say more with less. What Saint-Exupéry (in
Terre des homme) said of design is also true of texts:

It would seem that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to subtract.

[Il semble que la perfection soit attente non quand il n’y a plus rein à ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien à retrancher.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lead zero in decimals

Is a lead zero used before a decimal point? Consider the following example:
a) ...a modest improvement in A1C of .5% to 1%.

b) ...a modest improvement in A1C of 0.5% to 1%.

AMA Style prefers (b) — numerical values less than 1 typically require the lead zero. Exceptions include, (in)famously, P values and (lesser known) alpha levels.

Click here for an explanation of P values in AMA.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The least amount

Triathlete magazine provides genuine insight in an exchange with Joe Friel (world-class coach of endurance athletes). Friel is talking about endurance training, of course, but his meaning is relevant for editors (and their companies) too.

Triathlete: Do you have a particular coaching philosophy?

Joe Friel: I can put it in a nutshell... Athletes should do the least amount of training necessary to achieve their goals. I find that, once I figure out what's the least amount of training an athlete needs to achieve their goals, they usually achieve their goals. Before they were most likely doing too much to achieve their goals and fatigue was a constant factor. I don't know that I would call myself a minimalist, but I tend to hold down the volume and watch specificity very closely. I'm always making sure the athlete has things dialed in closely to what they're trying to accomplish.

You have to be a certain age to get it, I think. You've worked so hard at so very much and failed too often to miss the truth in what he's saying. You have to be exhausted.

There are a million tasks to professional editing: only a handful of them are necessary to please your client, meet your team's goals, and hone your craft. Stop trying to do everything you can do, and focus instead on those few things necessary to achieve specific goals. Hold down the volume and dial in closely.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Comma + et al in running text?

Someone wrote to ask about the comma used with et al in reference citations.

Haji SA, Ulusoy RE, Patel DA, et al. Am J Cardiol. 2006;98(9):1234-1237.

"Suppose the author name and et al are used in running text," she writes. "In that case, is the comma also used? If so, is it used before or after the et al, or is it used on both sides?"

Answer: The comma is not used in running text:

Haji et al found that childhood obesity is predictive of LV dilatation in young adults.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Payer vs Payor

The unfortunate soul who does the paying, what do we call him: payer or payor? Naturally, both spellings are being used, and fairly regularly, so if you're editing and haven't been asked this question before, it's coming.

payer = 40 200 000 hits (wins!)
payor = 1 680 000 hits

Editors often allow the -or spelling precisely because it's so prevalent, but a site-specific advanced Google search of JAMA reveals AMA's preference.

payer = 1240 hits (wins!)
payor = 46 hits

AMA style prefers the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, which in turn lists the -or spelling as a nonstandard variant (the one not preferred).

But why? I don't sit on the editorial board at Merriam-Webster, so I can't tell you. What I can tell you is that word formation in English is tricky business. Agent nouns like payer (payor) are formed from verbs (ie, to pay), but you'll notice we don't simply slap an -er or -or suffix on any verb to make a noun. Consider the verb correspond, for example: the agent noun isn't corresponder but correspondent.

Thankfully, there are rules (of a sort) that govern noun formation. For example, the agent-noun suffix -or is added to classical and post-classical Latin nouns to give us author, for example, and actor, confessor, doctor, sponsor, and so on. Latin nouns ending in -ator appear in Modern English with the -or ending, like conqueror, donor, and tailor. Post-classical Latin gave us pacator, meaning paymaster, so it's perfectly reasonable to assume that payor would be the valid form of the Modern English noun.

But what's reasonable is not always right since languages tend to break their own rules. When the noun expresses a pure agent—when there's no implication of office, trade, profession, or function—the -er suffix often wins. How can you be sure? Unfortunately, the precise rule, the clear and unambiguous law you're hoping for, doesn't exist here. The choice of -er or -or for agent nouns is somewhat capricious. Liar, like beggar, is an agent noun that takes neither the -er nor the -or ending, so best practice is to follow whatever your preferred dictionary tells you.

At least for AMA editors, then, the noun form of the verb to pay is payer.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hyphenated prefixes

AMA style says that common prefixes shouldn't be tacked by hyphen to foundation words. Anti- is one such common prefix, so you wouldn't write anti-microbial with a hyphen, as if the prefix carried its own weight or idea, but antimicrobial, a single, elegant word.

This is not, of course, a ban on using hyphens with prefixes. When a common prefix is paired with a proper noun (anti-English), for example, a capitalized word (non-Darwinian), an abbreviation (post-HIV), or a number (mid-1900s), then tack away. But generally the rule is no hyphens with common prefixes: coauthor, deidentify, interrater, midaxillary, nonnegotiable, overproduction, postamputation.

If this sounds too easy, give yourself a pat on the back. It is too easy. Regular readers of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) will have encountered inexplicable exceptions like microRNA, which, based on the AMA rule, should be hyphenated as micro-RNA. And in truth, the hyphenated version can be found on JAMA's Web site too, but microRNA is the (anti)rule.

Post- is another common prefix that deserves mention as an interesting and notable exception. Under the heading When Not to Use Hyphens, AMA lists posttraumatic as an example of the rule that common prefixes are not joined to foundation words with hyphens but combined instead. Right. Got it. The trusting writer or editor applies that rule to posttransplant, postresection, or postsurgery, but it's not always correct to do so. Sometimes it's flat wrong.

It's true that post can appear as a combining adjectival prefix, and when it does you fuse the words and use no hyphen, as in posttransplant recovery. But if you're trying to say that Mr Smith's condition improved post transplant, then post is not a prefix at all but a freestanding adverb. So there are plenty of contexts within which you'd need to write post resection, post surgery, or post partum, where post is its own word, carrying its own content, standing on its own descender.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Translation experience is important for English language editing

Your organization needs to polish your deliverables—really make them shine. You're considering hiring an editor for general QA and language editing.

Recommendation: screen candidates for foreign language and translation experience.

If your company develops programs in English for English-speaking audiences, you probably don't need a bilingual editor, right? What you want is an English language editor who has studied foreign language, unpacked its grammar and syntax, digested its idiom and style.

Translation exercises especially sensitize editors to essential content; translation also teaches editors how to rewrite from scratch, as it were, which is crucial for successful editing in any industry. It's not important if your editor can speak fluent Hindi as a second or third language. What matters is the geeky grit of working over lines of text with highlighters and needle-point pens like the Pigma Micron or the Staedtler .005 mm.

When a writer doesn't have time to polish his work, for example, the text he produces may be full of filler, throwaway lines that were important at the time of writing because they helped him keep pace or maintain momentum. An editor who lacks translation experience may encounter such a text and recognize that there's a problem: good.

What's bad is that such an editor may attempt to solve the problem by tweaking words here and there, trying to smooth the syntax or improve a bit of grammar—a complete waste of time in this case. You don't want an editor who's keen to tweak filler. You want the other editor, the one who can immediately recognize filler for what it is and rewrite sections to cut that filler, foreground the essential content, and preserve what people commonly call flow.

That editor usually has solid experience translating paragraphs of a language X into cool, crisp English.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Obama and the monoglot

The Weekly Standard comments on Obama's speech in Atlanta yesterday.

Of course Obama's right, insofar as citizens of an ideal country in an ideal world would, obviously, polyglot their way through life. But how much practical value is there to speaking more than 1 language?

Well, it depends.

Where do you live? I have a brother living in Dublin, Georgia, for example, but I think it's safe to speculate that learning Irish wouldn't improve his life much. Neither French nor German would help him navigate the quiet lanes or shop the Piggly Wiggly. People speak English in Dublin, Georgia. Why shouldn't they? I can drive from Atlanta to Dublin and never once need anything more than the English I'm still learning after 37 years.

But driving the same distance in some European neighborhoods will mean driving through 3 countries. What makes sense in Europe doesn't always work in Georgia.

What kind of work do you do? I edit texts for a UK-based company and almost never have to consult my French Langenscheidt. Twice, maybe, in 6 years. It's true that some of our materials appear in UK English, which may qualify (depending on who you ask) as a foreign language, but what my employer requires is command of English, not Dutch or Chinese, however smart that might be. Our clients happen to know French and German, Russian and Spanish and sometimes Welsh. The fact that they want materials in English, and we provide them in English, good English, is no indication that we're all a bunch of jingoists. What will grow their business—what will thus grow my career and improve my salary—is deeper and yet more mastery of English. Not Spanish and not Filipino.

I think it's unfortunate to attach shame or ridicule to those Americans who speak only English. The implication ripples out, doesn't it, and similarly condemns monoglots from Las Crucitas to Charancy, right? For some of us, our birth language is the only language that makes any practical sense. That's not a thing to be embarrassed about, really. Even 1 language is enough to keep the most brilliant mind fruitfully occupied for a lifetime.

Anyway, I doubt Obama's a snob. I think it's more likely he's an idealist, and there's a lot of good things to say, in any language, about idealism. I just don't think what he had to say about language was very helpful for most of us.

From InDesign to InCopy

So I've just completed my Adobe InDesign training at Emory, and 15 hours later I'm exploring InCopy as well.

Listen, InCopy promises to replace Microsoft Word, so I feel compelled to look. Word just chaps my hide. And, honestly, while InDesign has robust editing and proofreading capabilities, it's a very serious software. Heavy duty. About the only thing you can't do with InDesign is conjure up spirits, or travel through time I guess, which means InDesign is probably too powerful a tool for most writers and editors. Most, though obviously not all.

So here's Adobe's white paper on InCopy workflow: Link. Impressive... most impressive. I've linked InCopySecrets.com under the blogroll to the right. Once I get the software up and running on my machine and test drive it, I'll report on features.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

InDesign and copyediting

I'm sitting with the CEO of a MedCom here in Atlanta. His company has a multi-million dollar account with a pharmaceutical client who is happy with their work but has requested that programs be polished.

They have no in-house editor, so they have no point person for style expertise or language editing (or QA generally). Furthermore, most content is generated by outside freelance writers (in Word), approved by in-house medical officers, and dropped into design template by satellite office (using InDesign) in Europe.

Primary Challenge: Content goes from Word in ATL to InDesign in satellite office; InDesign file is exported to PDF and returned to ATL where content is reviewed, changes are marked in pen on hard copy (or notes are inserted electronically); then hard copy is run through copy machine for export to PDF (again) and pitched back to European designer who isn't necessarily sensitive to stylistic inconsistencies.
  • No standard operating procedure exists

  • No standard style (to be used across all offices) exists
Recommendation: Hire mature editor in ATL office who is proficient with InDesign.

  • Draft standard operating procedure (SOP)

  • Adopt AMA as house style for all programs (house style can also be personalized for company's unique brand and needs; client-specific styles can also be applied by editor on an as-needed basis)
Process Enhancement: After internal medical officer signs off on freelance content, Word doc goes to in-house editor who standardizes all elements of style according to AMA. Edited Word doc goes to European designer who finalizes layout; final layout is reviewed by editor in ATL in InDesign. Final file saved according to agreed-upon SOP and sent to printer.

There's much here to unpack, but the specific point I want to drive home is the editor's ability to ply her craft in the software that generates the final layout. Process efficiency always benefits the bottom line. For many companies, that will mean editors should be working with final InDesign files instead of exported PDFs.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chaos in language, a review

Mitchener WG, Nowak MA. Chaos and language. Proc Biol Sci. 2004;271(1540):701-704.

Language is a stream of sound—phonemes, the individual units of speech like the /s/ sound in stream and the /t/ sound that follows it—words, phrases, sentences, and blogs (or, if you prefer, books). Language users manipulate the stream by means of an internal computational system—grammar. Research shows that languages and their grammars, acquired from generation to generation, are stable for about a century. Languages change, of course, but they are marked by relative equilibrium over the course of about 100 years.

Personalize that: One hundred years ago, my grandfather would have been two years old. There’s no question that the English language spoken in his house at that time generally equates with the English language spoken in my house today. Such is English expressing its equilibrium. But it would be wrong, I think, to describe those two instances of English as equable. Even incremental change in language adds up over time. At the end of 100 years, the difference can make quite a difference.

Grimm’s and Verner’s Law detail changes to certain sounds from Indo-European to Germanic languages, changes that are especially relevant for English. Sound shifts can have dramatic effects on a language and can be seen, for example, in the shift from the voiceless stop of the /p/ in Greek pyr (translated = fire) to the voiceless fricative of the /f/ in English fire. The initial consonant changed because, for some reason, the way people pronounced the consonant shifted. Thus, despite a very different look, pyr/fire, this is the same word except for the change from p to f. The similarity is striking if we go back 1300 years or so to Old English, which spelled our modern fire as fyr.

Systematic changes in language, like those described by Grimm’s and Verner’s Law, are unpredictable and unavoidable. Language is, after all, necessarily dynamic, reflecting the nature of its users. Where different languages come into contact with one another, big changes in one or both languages can be expected. Over time, Old English lost case endings on nouns, for example, and this is likely due to contact with Old Norse. Changes may also oscillate: Mitchener and Nowak note, for example, that changes in language morphology follow a pattern:

isolating < agglutinating < inflecting < isolating…

English is coming full circle, changing from inflecting to isolating.

Changes can also enter a language through acquisition errors, or learning errors, in which a child’s acquired grammar does not match the parents’ grammar. Perfectly natural variation in speech pattern or the use of multiple languages in the home environment might trigger learning errors.

In short, Mitchener and Nowak use mathematical models to study language change. What they find is that some language change—such as lention, vowel shifts, and morphology type—arises from reanalysis and variation among speakers and follows regular patterns. But language change is also unpredictable and highly sensitive to perturbations of learning error, borrowed vocabulary, language contact, and so on. Simple errors in learning can lead to complex changes over time. Language, in the Mitchener and Nowak study, is sensitive and stochastic, showing key characteristics of chaotic dynamical systems.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On-screen vs hard copy editing

Old-school editors like to work on hard copy. You have a manuscript that needs QA? The old-school editor prefers that you keep your Word file and give him, instead, a printout.

Some problems:

  • Getting changes back to the team to implement

    Hard copy changes will have to be converted to PDF if the project team is off-site, for example, or if versions of the project (including edited versions) are being stored on company servers. Hard copies are just awkward like that. The business environment is increasingly streamlined, paperless, digital; old-school editing presents basic process challenges for a modern company.

  • Failing to make the most of technology

    Microsoft Word is equipped with search functions, track changes, and comment features specifically designed for editors, authors, and project managers to maximize their reviews and collaborate seamlessly from version to version.

Productivity, collaborative potential, convenience: technology really does increase them, but only (obviously) if companies know the technology and editors implement available technology into their own best practice. A few practical benefits of working in Word include

  • Industry-customized dictionaries for spell-check

  • Search function for reliable detection of repeated mistakes

  • Comment feature to provide explanations (a teaching tool)

  • Comment feature for author/team queries

Using available technology today also prepares individuals and companies to make the most of technological advancements down the road.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Probability values: no lead zero

If the Principal Investigators of some X compound observed absolutely predestined data, then they'd have an integer for a P value, where P = 1. Absolute impossibility would be expressed as zero, as in zero probability, or P = 0.

But that's not what happens in drug studies. Instead, scientists proceed on the assumption that events occur in a probabilistic rather than predestined universe. Thus, a P value could never be expressed as a whole number, so AMA prefers that no lead zero appear with the decimal point. You'd write P ≥ .01, for example, rather than P ≥ 0.01.

The lead zero looks legitimate enough, even a little brave, all by itself to the left of the decimal point. But it's pointless, says AMA, because no value could possibly appear to the left of the decimal point without making the probability value useless. Hence, no lead zero.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Language editing – example

What they sent me... (1 sentence of some 44 words)

The theme for this program was developed in recognition that the upcoming 2008 U.S. national election is a very timely topic and to highlight the challenge faced by many PCPs confronted with choosing among multiple therapies to treat their patients with type 2 diabetes.

What I returned to them... (essentially 3 sentences, 2 joined by semicolon, 52 words, clarity)

The theme for this program was developed in recognition of the prominent media coverage of the 2008 US national election; Decision 2008 will draw from that prominence but refocus the discussion. Many PCPs must make an important decision about which therapy represents the best choice for their patients with type 2 diabetes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Commas with thousands or not?

A writer recently asked if commas were used to indicate place values at thousands and beyond. Answer? No. What about with dollar amounts? No.

AMA follows SI convention (Système International d’Unités) and prefers a space (technically a thin space) for place values beyond thousands. Yes, even with money.
  • 1000
  • 10 000 (or $10 000, for example)
  • 100 000 (or $100 000, for example)
  • 1 000 000

Frustrated at work? Here's 5 steps to make things much worse

Client pushing you around or pushing the envelope on scope of work? Moving those deadlines from next Friday to this Tuesday and expecting you and your team to just make do? Maybe your supervisor is too busy or too disorganized to manage you effectively, properly reward you, or motivate you.

Whatever your unique situation, here's 5 easy steps that take occupational frustration to the next level, ruin your professional reputation and make things much worse.

  1. Let nothing shake your confidence that you are, in fact, being persecuted. After all, everybody else in a pharmaceutical communications agency spends most of the day nursing a toothpick and surfing the Web. You—and you alone—work like a dog.

  2. Don't just assume that client service people in your agency don't know how to manage clients: tell them so. They'll know you have their best interests in mind, and they'll thank you someday.

  3. Call friends and family from a company phone, preferably the one in the break room, and complain loudly. They want to hear about all the unreasonable demands made of you by clueless clients and unfair project managers, and you'll feel a lot better getting all that off your chest.

  4. Come in late and leave early. Nothing says "I'm committed to making things better around here" than abandoning your post. You'll show 'em.

  5. Dramatic sighs: practice in front of a mirror and don't forget to use your diaphragm. Cubicle acoustics are especially kind to dramatic sighs: your team mates will hear you and wonder why you weren't put in charge.

Friday, March 14, 2008

So many phases

Pharmaceutical products are tested in clinical trials, organized as phases, and I never tire of seeing all the different forms used to refer to those phases in running text, tables, figures, and line art. It's often a calculus of variation, even in a single project, especially if the text runs over 100 pages.

How many different ways could phase 1 be written in running text, tables, figures, and line art? Here's a menu of what I've seen in 6 years:

Phase 1, phase 1, Ph-1, Ph1, P 1, P1, Phase I, phase I, Ph I, PhI, P I, PI

That last one is really nasty because PI is a common abbreviation in pharmaceuticals for something entirely unrelated to clinical trial phases. It shouldn't be used, ever, to mean phase 1 but it is. Occasionally. The writer can't help it, sometimes, deadlines being drop dead and all.

Inevitably, any of those 12 possibilities listed above get tangled up in a typo or two (or 10)—especially if the text runs over 100 pages. The writer means to type phase 1, for example, but types phase1 instead. Considering that there's 4 phases, we're talking about nearly 50 possible representations (without typos).

AMA has a very simple rule: lower-case phase + Arabic numeral in running text, and any reasonable abbreviation will do for tables and figures as long as its applied consistently.