METM21 Online Chronicles: Emma Goldsmith

Tapping Twitter to brush up on @AMAManual style

“Leafing through a print style manual used to be a good way for language professionals to chance upon writing tips and strategies they were unfamiliar with or had forgotten. But today’s online formats make serendipitous word encounters less likely.”

As someone who spent a lot of time browsing dictionaries back in the day, the opening lines of the abstract for this talk struck a chord with me immediately. The days of browsing dictionaries might be gone for most of us, but there are still plenty of ways to learn on the fly, as we were about to discover.

Emma Goldsmith is a Spanish-to-English medical translator and long-time Twitter user who makes the most of the platform to learn from and keep up to date with a variety of dictionaries and style guides, including the AMA (American Medical Association) Manual of Style.

The talk began with a brief overview of the manual, which, according to its Twitter bio, is “Everything you need to produce well-organized, clear, and readable manuscripts”. A new version is published about every decade. The 11th edition was released in February 2020 and is available online (£42 per year) and as a print book (£69). Clearly the print book is the more cost-effective option, but the online version has the advantage of being regularly updated.

Changes made between the 10th and 11th editions included a rewritten section on study types and designs, an expanded section on referencing (including how to reference a tweet), changes in language usage (singular “they” now allowed) and changes in units of measurement (35 °C, but a 45° angle).

These are important updates for anyone working in medical and scientific publishing, but what about updates made online since the 11th edition was published? What do you do if you only have the print book? Tap Twitter, of course!

Emma Goldsmith @AMA

After following the @AMAManual account for many years, Emma decided to take a closer look at its activity over the past year ahead of her talk. Thorough as ever in her preparations, she analysed the account’s tweets from September 2020 to August 2021 and found that it had published 446 tweets:

  • 113 spontaneous tweets (announcing recommendations, updates and new quizzes/blog posts)
  • 42 retweets (other style guides and dictionaries)
  • 291 replies (responses to language queries related to grammar, word usage, punctuation, abbreviations, etc.)

Emma noted that the account takes a “teaching through Twitter” approach, with replies tending to be instructive rather than giving a simple yes/no answer, and since the account is run by the Chair of the AMA Manual of Style, we can assume that tweets are reliable and responses can be trusted.

We then joined Emma on a whistle-stop tour of the past year with a series of carefully chosen tweets. In terms of COVID-19, the manual advises that variants such as Delta should be capitalised and that COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 no longer need to be expanded anywhere in a paper. On the topic of race and ethnicity, it recommends upper case for Black and White as racial categories and that these be used as adjectives and not nouns alone. Emma also pointed out that the whole Race and Ethnicity section of the manual was recently rewritten and is now freely available to download (chapter 11). Other examples covered ageism, gender-neutral language, formatting, eponyms, typos in references and grammar, and we even saw one of Emma’s own tricky questions from earlier this year.

The talk ended with a lively Q&A session and a quick AMA style quiz, with discussions about recommended Twitter accounts continuing beyond Emma’s talk and into the networking sessions. We might not have covered all 1,200 pages of the manual, but we certainly got plenty of food for thought!

Christiansen S, Iverson C, Flanagin A, et al. AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 11th ed. Oxford University Press; 2020.

This METM21 Online presentation was chronicled by Jacqueline Lamb.

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