Clinic Writing Guidelines

Every year, I find myself correcting the same kinds of mistakes and clumsiness in written clinic documents. This Web page is an attempt to highlight the more common errors, so that you can avoid making them before I see your prose.

NOTE: When I return a marked-up document to you, every clinic member should review all of the markup, even the parts written by other people. One of the best ways to learn to write better is to see changes that tighten the writing and remove verbosity. Reviewing editorial corrections to other people's sections will help you improve your own writing.

Also, as you review my markup check off each change as you make it in the source document, so that you can be sure that you haven't missed any changes.

Finally, note that I use standard proofreading marks. You can find many explanations of those marks on the Web. If you don't understand one of my notations, or can't read it due to my poor handwriting, ASK ME. Don't just ignore the ones you don't understand.

The Only Absolute No-No

There are lots of writing mistakes that bug me. However, there is only one that I consider completely, utterly inexcusable in all cases: failure to run your document through a spell-checker. I can forgive difficulty with homonyms, but please remember that I am the author of ispell, so have the decency to spell-check your document immediately before you submit it to me.

General Guidelines

Things to Study

There are a few areas that are moderately difficult to deal with, but that need to be done right if you want your prose to communicate well. Most of them are well covered by the Chicago Manual of Style, which I look to as an authority on all questions of English writing. You can essentially always win a writing dispute with me by pointing to CMOS as a source.

Areas worth of special attention (i.e., you really should read the whole CMOS section) include:

Quick Rules

Many writing errors can be avoided by simple hard-and-fast rules: