Commonly misused words in scientific and medical writing

December 3, 2015

Dr. Jennifer C van Velkinburgh, Filipodia Publishing


We would like to take this opportunity to focus on the topic of the correct usages of some commonly misused words in scientific and medical writing.


Sex versus Gender


The descriptor “sex” came from the Latin word “sexus”. It is relevant to a person’s biological characteristics (such as hormonal profiles or anatomical features), and it refers to the categories of male and female.


The descriptor “gender” came from the Latin word “genus” and means “kind, sort, race”. It is relevant to describe a person’s social characteristics, referring to his or her behavior mode, dress, and/or attitudes within the context of society.


Therefore, when we talk about the classification of male and female, we should use “sex”, and we talk about masculine and feminine, we should use the “gender”. Most frequently, scientific and medical studies use sex-stratification (so that there analysis is based on biological differences among men and women in the study) and not gender-stratification (which would include cross-dressing males or females in the opposite stratified study group).


Affect versus Effect


Both of these two words have a meaning of “influence”. However, while the former one, “affect”, is a verb, the latter one, “effect”, is a noun. So, a protein will exert an “effect” on cell growth, but it (the protein) will “affect” a cell’s ability to grow.


Between versus Among


When we talk about things that are totally different or distinct from one other, no matter if there are two items or more being compared, the word “between” is used; however, when we talk about things that are part of a single group (with more than three items), the word “among” is used.


Plural versus Singular forms of words


Other commonly mistakes are made in the simple expression of plural and singular words, e.g. data (plural) versus datum (singular) or bacteria (plural) versus bacterium (singular).