Although much effort has gone into harmonizing style conventions for international exchange of scientific information, some organizations maintain a tradition of casual reporting. The tradition of poor writing is often handed down from supervisors to staff members, who, in turn, pass it on to new employees with limited writing experience. In my workshops, I frequently challenge certain "inbred" conventions, to which I usually get the reply: "We have always done it this way!"
Serious deficiencies in the reporting of scientific data usually become apparent only when documents are submitted to health authorities (in the process of obtaining authorization for marketing of a new product) or journal editors (when intending to publish data). These official institutions impose strict requirements on the clarity and accuracy of the scientific message. The most frequent deficiencies are these:
• poorly designed templates for preclinical, clinical, and technical documents
• jargonized writing and use of "inbred" terms with uncertain meaning
• mixing of British and American spelling within and across documents
• modifier strings and misuse of adjectives and adverbs
• exclusive use of the passive voice to avoid the naming of responsible persons
• erroneous use of punctuation, especially commas, brackets, parentheses, and semicolons
• inconsistent use of capitals in titles, drug names, departments, etc.
Q Poor writing style handed down by tradition will delay review of the document. This, in turn, prolongs the "time to market" of publications and applications for marketing authorization of a new drug. An internal style manual to be used by all contributors can be a great help.
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