Diction - Grammar

AMA Manual of Style - Stacy L. Christiansen, Cheryl Iverson 2020


Diction, or word choice, is important for any writing to be understood by its intended audience. In scientific writing, concrete and specific language is preferred over the abstract and general.


The area under study provides new evidence for a solution.


Immunology provides new evidence for a solution.


An individual with a medical degree should examine this lesion.


A physician should examine this lesion.

7.7.1 Homonyms.

Homonyms are words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. They are easily confused, and computer spell-check programs are unable to differentiate them. Common examples include affect/effect, accept/except, altar/alter, assistance/assistants, cite/site/sight, council/counsel, its/it’s, patience/patients, peace/piece, peak/peek/pique, pleural/plural, principal/principle, and your/you’re (see 11.1, Correct and Preferred Usage of Common Words and Phrases).

7.7.2 Idioms, Colloquialisms, and Slang.

Some language is best avoided in material written for a professional or academic audience.

Idioms are fixed expressions that cannot be understood literally (kick the bucket, on a roll, put up with, pay attention). In addition, some may have multiple meanings that can be understood only in context (pass out, stand for). Idioms are not governed by any rules, and each stands on its own. Be wary of using idioms, particularly for audiences that include readers whose first language is not English.

Colloquialisms (or casualisms1) are characteristic of informal, casual communication usually varying by geographic region (ain’t, anyways, cold turkey, flat line, OK, shell-shocked, tax hike).

Slang includes informal, nonstandard terms whose meanings are not readily understood by all speakers of a language (eg, used by specific groups of people). Sometimes slang words are newly coined (woke, rinky-dink, clickbait), and sometimes they are created by applying new meanings to existing words (bad, cool, random, sick, wicked).

Colloquialisms and slang should be avoided except in special situations, such as “flavorful” prose or direct quotations.

My sense is that part of the reason why Claude is able to survive is denial. He just says, flat out, “This ain’t happening.”

The technical terminology specific to various disciplines is considered jargon and should be avoided (see 11.5, Jargon).

7.7.3 Euphemisms.

Euphemisms (from the Greek eu, meaning good, and pheme, meaning voice) are indirect terms used to express something unpleasant. Although such language is often necessary in social situations (“He passed away” or “The study animals were sacrificed”), directness is better in scientific writing (“The patient died” or “The study animals were killed”) (see 11.5, Jargon).

7.7.4 Clichés.

Clichés are worn-out expressions (sleep like a log, dead as a doornail, first and foremost, crystal clear). At one time they were clever metaphors, but overuse has left them lifeless, unable to conjure in the reader’s mind the original image. Avoid clichés like the plague.