Writing in a cGMP Environment: Some Tips on Word Usage
This week’s blog article is geared towards technical writers and those of us who work or operate in a cGMP environment. We are all very familiar with the associated rules and regulations for “appropriate” documentation: not only must everything be documented scrupulously, the way we word our documents also plays a key role in how effective and accurate they are. In honor of all of that, here are some reminders on proper word usage for technical writing; it always helps to refresh our memories from time to time. How else can we ensure we are always staying on top of our game?
USE OF WORDS
- Use a spelling checker that is appropriate for the language being used.
- Make sure you use words according to the precise meaning understood by the average person.
- Ideally, you would check whether every word could be deleted or replaced by a better one.
- Aim for economy: because instead of based on the fact that; for or to instead of for the purpose of. Similarly: there were several subjects who completed…; it is suggested that a relationship may exist…; both alike; one and the same; a total of n subjects; four different groups; absolutely essential; found previously; small in size; in close proximity; very close to zero; much better; period of time; summarize briefly; the reason is because; also included; in order to; except for.
- Aim for precision: patient or gymnast instead of subject; concentration or frequency instead of level.
- Don’t generalize unnecessarily. For example, don’t say some if you know of only one instance.
- This on its own is known as an ambiguous antecedent. Use instead this test or this problem or whatever.
- Avoid hype (hyperbole). Words like very and extremely are usually unnecessary.
- Affect or effect? Temperature affected the outcome. There was an effect on outcome. Try this to help you remember which is which: The arrow affected the aardvark. The effect was significant.
- Note these singular and plural forms: criterion, criteria; datum, data; medium, media; phenomenon, phenomena.
- Don’t use however or its synonyms twice in one paragraph, because changing the direction of an argument twice in one paragraph may annoy readers.
- Don’t use however more than once every 10 paragraphs. Try a thesaurus for synonyms.
- Keep jargon to a minimum. Explain any technical phrases that you have to use that may not be clear to the reader.
- Avoid the so-called non-human agent. For example, use the authors concluded that… rather than the study concluded that….
- Avoid colloquialisms, such as steer clear of.
- While sounds more modern than whilst.
- Avoid as such. Poor: The SCAT is a reliable test of state anxiety. As such, it is suitable for experimental studies. Better: The SCAT is a reliable test of state anxiety; it is therefore suitable for experimental studies.
- Avoid her, his and any other sexist language, even if the subjects are clearly of one gender.
- The following APA rules are considered old fashioned by some and need not be adhered to strictly:
- Use while and since to refer to time. Do not use them when the meaning is whereas, although, or because.
- Don't start sentences with because, since, or as.
Now go forth and prepare those documents in confidence!
Do you have any other guidelines for word usage? Was there ever a time you forgot one of these rules and it backfired? Let us know in the comments!
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