AMA Manual of Style – What is in that manual anyway?

I’ve been talking a lot about different aspects of the AMA Manual of Style, but I haven’t as yet provided an overview of the contents in their entirety. So, I thought that would be a good thing to do. Perhaps you are new to medical writing and you haven’t really taken a look at the manual. I suggest that you go to the website and take a look. Spend a couple of hours digging in. Some of it makes for quite interesting reading and will certainly be helpful for your day-to-day work.

Let’s first go ahead and click on the contents link on the AMA manual of style homepage. Just as a side note, I always find that the contents link the best way to get back to square one if I’ve gotten lost in the search or something like that, so remember that contents link on the top left-hand side of the homepage; it will help you navigate the site.

Five Major Sections

The entire contents of the style guide can be pretty overwhelming at first glance, but they are well organized and are divided into only five sections. The first section is all about preparing an article for publication; the second section is about style, and that is actually where I have spent most of my time as a medical writer when using this manual. Section 3 is terminology, which covers abbreviations, nomenclature, acronyms, and Greek letters.  Section 4 covers measurement and quantitation. Finally, Section 5 covers technical information, specifically typography, manuscript editing and proofreading, publishing terms, and resources.

Two Important Subsections

First of all, let’s drill down into a couple of the sections so we can take a closer look. The style section covers grammar, punctuation, plurals, capitalization, correct and preferred usage, non-English words phrases and accent marks, and medical indexes. And if you drill down further into section two, the grammar subsection, you’ll see it covers all the major parts of speech and challenges, such as parallel construction and subject-verb agreement. If you have to study one section of the AMA manual of style as a medical writer, that one would be it.

There’s also the punctuation subsection, which is also important reading. This subsection covers all the different punctuation marks and when they should be used; you might be surprised, even if you’ve been writing for quite a while, at some of the mistakes that you may inadvertently have been making. At least that’s how I felt. 

Quizzes for Self Evaluation

If you want to challenge yourself by taking some quizzes, you can go up to the top navigation bar of the homepage and click on style quizzes. The link will bring you to several tests on the style section, and actually all five sections of the AMA manual of style are covered by these quizzes. But for the style section alone, there are over 20 individual quizzes that are useful in testing your knowledge.

Other Important Sections

Another section that is very helpful to medical writers is measurement and quantitation and specifically the study design and statistics subsection. It’s of course very important for us to be aware of the different types of studies that are used to communicate scientific information.  There is also information on P values and other aspects of reporting scientific information.

If you do a lot of writing in a specific area, such as cancer for example, you might want to delve into the terminology section which is Section 3. If you take a look in the nomenclature Subsection 15, which is in section 3, you’ll find 15.2 cancer, which covers cancer stage, the TNM staging system, the Bethesda system and other aspects that are specific to describing cancer. Other topics covered in the nomenclature subsection include cardiology; drugs; equipment, devices, and reagents; genetics; hemostasis; immunology; neurology; and the list continues.

Another useful section that might often be overlooked is in Section 5, Technical Information–the subsection on resources. Included are various resources listed for dictionaries, including general, medical, and scientific; a list of books on writing in general; resource suggestions for illustrating and displaying data; and also a listing of professional organizations and groups associated with scientific writing and editing.

So as I mentioned there are five sections and each contains a wealth of information in their own right. I strongly recommend that you check out the AMA manual online and depending on your specific area of expertise, you may uncover other sections that are even more relevant to you.

Well that’s it for now. If you need medical writing help, please email us at, and if you are interested in getting into medical writing, please visit