June 21, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: methodologic or methodological & comma and independent clauses

Posted in comma before and, commas, commas and independent clauses, methodologic or methodological at 6:00 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Methodologic or methodological

A reader writes:

“methodologic” vs. “methodological” ???

Have you already addressed this?

We have, but the problem is so ubiquitous that I think it deserves another whack in the hopes of the message getting through.

I went online to Google Scholars (http://scholar.google.com/), and queried ‘methodologic.’ This is what I found JUST ON THE FIRST PAGE!

Left atrial remodeling in mitral regurgitation—methodologic approach, physiological determinants, and outcome implications: a prospective quantitative Doppler-echocardiographic and electron beam-computed tomographic study.

Methodologic considerations for human chronobiology.

The Washington Heights-Inwood genetic study of essential tremor: methodologic issues in essential-tremor research.

Postural responses and effector factors in persons with unexplained falls: Results and methodologic issues.

Epidemiologic studies of osteoporotic fractures: Methodologic issues.

Methodologic Mistakes in Grounded Theory.

Methodologic guidelines for systematic reviews of randomized control trials in health care from the Potsdam Consultation on Meta-Analysis.

Now, I am sure these are all fascinating and scientifically important articles (one is even by one of our faculty who shall remain nameless), but they all suffer from the same malady: Methodologic is not a word. I don’t want to scare you, but it’s a fact. Methodologic is not a word. You won’t find in in any dictionary.

To be sure I wasn’t biasing my findings by relying on Google Scholars, I went to PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/) and performed the same query and got this result ON THE FIRST PAGE:

Prenatal marijuana use: epidemiology, methodologic issues, and infant outcome.

Prevalence, diagnosis, and treatment of ankyloglossia: methodologic review.

Guidelines for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 testing: biologic and methodologic considerations.

Is hand splinting effective for adults following stroke? A systematic review and methodologic critique of published research.

Ultrasound-guided obturator nerve block: a sonoanatomic study of a new methodologic approach.

The genetics of depression: what information can new methodologic approaches provide?

 Determination of fibromyalgia syndrome after whiplash injuries: methodologic issues.

Oh shoot, another faulty member is one of the authors, here. Oh well, I guess I can console myself by knowing that at least we are getting published. But as I said, methodologic is not a word,  and you won’t find it in any dictionary.

Where you will find it is in scientific articles like these, and the word is pervasive in scientific articles. And you’ll find it in a wide range of journals. The references I noted come from Annals of Internal Medicine, Cancer, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, Blood, Critical Care Medicine, Journal of Gastroenterology, among others. I could have cited pages of references from all sorts of journals. All wrong.

I don’t usually quote from previous WLUTs, but I don’t think I can improve upon this:

There’s epidemiologic and biologic and bacteriologic and technologic and physiologic and dermatologic and pharmacologic and geologic and neurologic and ophthalmologic and pathologic and serologic and illogic and morphologic and technologic and hematologic and gynecologic and oncologic and immunologic and microbiologic and ecologic and etiologic and ethnologic and sociologic and radiologic and chronologic and neurophysiologic and psychopathologic.

But, boys and girls, there is no such word as ‘methodologic.’

The word you are looking for is methodological. So remember this: methodologic is NOT a word; the word you are looking for is METHODOLOGICAL!

Okay? And authors, it’s good to see that you are getting published.

Tip 2: Comma and independent clauses

A reader writes:

You likely have answered this one many times!  I was taught that a comma could separate 2 independent clauses in a sentence but not two verbs.  Therefore, this sentence from a recent NIH RFI would be considered incorrect.  For the comma to be correct, a subject would be needed in the second clause.

“Will this modification help level the playing field across academic institutions and career stages, and more accurately describe advances that may have originated in collaborative, multi-author and team research settings?

However,  some of my colleagues favor the construction as is.  Your advice is greatly appreciated!

First, let me say that the question, as devised by NIH, is terribly written, and the comma after ‘stages,’ while used mistakenly, could be perceived, sadly, as adding a bit of clarity to this mish-mosh of words. However, it is incorrect, and as I try to parse some meaning from this sentence (particularly the second part), I am perplexed. What does ‘may’ mean with respect to ‘may have originated’? Are ‘collaborative, multi-author, and team research settings’ three different settings or are they different ways of describing one research setting? As it is worded, I would have a hard time deciding how to answer this.

But that’s not what the reader asked about. So let’s look at the comma usage, which was the focus of the question.

The rule is this: use a comma before the conjunction in a sentence that has two independent clauses separated by a coordinating conjunction (i.e., and, so, or,  nor, for, but, yet).

Remember, an independent clause is one that has a subject and verb and can stand alone on its own as a sentence.

If a sentence has only ONE independent clause and is separated from the rese of the sentence by a coordinating conjunction, that is—and, so, or, nor, for, but, yet—then a commas should NOT be used.

Also, please remember that just because a phrase has a noun and a verb, that doesn’t mean that the noun is a subject and that the phrase is an independent clause. Consider this example:

The instructor announced that there would be a surprise test soon and that the test would cover all material assigned to date.

The second part of this sentence has both a noun (test) and a verb (would cover) but no subject. The pesky conjunction, that, keeps it from being an independent clause.

‘That the test would cover all material assigned to date’

could not stand on its own as a sentence. However, if you rewrote it:

The instructor announced that there would be a surprise test soon, and the test will cover all material assigned to date.

Now you have two independent clauses, and a comma is required.

Probably the most common error I see in my reviewing your work is the use of the comma following an independent clause separated from an INCOMPLETE clause by the word, and, or some other conjunction. This is an example I cam across recently:

Our research seeks to find ways to reduce the number of individuals afflicted with the disease, and ways to close the racial gap.

‘ways to close the racial gap’ cannot stand alone as a sentence, so there should be no comma.

Our research seeks to find ways to reduce the number of individuals afflicted with the disease and ways to close the racial gap.

Much better.

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