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.