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Writing in a cGMP Environment: Some Tips on Word Usage


 Woman TypingThis 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 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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"Avoid her, his and any other sexist language, even if the subjects are clearly of one gender." 
"Aim for gender-neutral" rather than "sexist"?
Posted @ Saturday, February 09, 2013 12:54 PM by James K
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