Style Guidelines for MyMSK and MSK Patient and Caregiver Education Materials

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This style guide is for people who are writing patient-facing content for Patient and Caregiver Engagement. It’s also meant as a reference for anyone at MSK who is interested in using clear, simple writing. The first section has general style guidelines, followed by specific guidelines based upon the content platform.

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How to Create Reader-Friendly Materials

In this section we describe best practices for creating materials. When you use plain language, your audience can better understand your documents, regardless of their health literacy level.

These best practices guidelines are taken from the following professional guidelines:

How to Communicate Information Clearly

To quickly engage your audience, present the most important information first.

Tell them what actions to take and explain why it’s important to them.

Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Food can carry germs that can make you and your family sick.

Tell your audience what they will gain from understanding and using the material.

Tell your audience how your materials will benefit them.

This information describes arm and shoulder exercises. They will help you regain motion in the arm on your affected side.

Tell your audience what they need to do.

Clearly state the actions you want your audience to take. Use concrete nouns and an active voice. An active voice is where the subject does the action. Avoid using the phrase “You should” when you give directions, as in “You should raise your arm.”

Raise your arm and hand. If you’re sitting, rest your arm on a few pillows or on the back of a couch.

Limit the number of messages.

Give your audience no more than 3 or 4 main ideas per document or section of your document. Paragraphs should start with a clear topic sentence and shouldn’t include unrelated details.

Exercise is safe for women with lymphedema. It can help reduce the swelling.

Stick to one idea at a time.

Develop one idea fully before moving on to the next idea. People are confused when materials skip back and forth among topics.

Avoid lengthy lists.

Create short bulleted lists with 3 to 7 items. People with limited reading skills tend to forget items in longer lists. If you have a long list, break it into subheadings.

Note: see the Style and Usage section for guidelines on bulleted lists.

Choose your words carefully.

Keep it short. Use words with 1 or 2 syllables when you can. If possible, limit sentences to 8 to 10 words. Limit paragraphs to 3 to 5 sentences. Using plain language definitions or explanations often adds length but increases understanding and readability. Omit unnecessary words. One example is the word “that.”

At MSK, we understand that you may be coping with having cancer while quitting smoking.

Communicate as if you were talking to a friend.

A conversational style has a more natural tone and is easy to understand.  Address the patient as “you” to impart a more intimate tone.

You could get sick if you’re near the chemical.

Use “with” not “to” for conversations with a provider or doctor’s office.

Talk with your doctor if you have questions.

Respect and value your audience.

Don’t talk down or preach. People are less likely to act on information if they’re made to feel bad about their current behavior or health situation.

Use a tone that encourages the audience.

Emphasize small, practical steps. Offer concrete examples of successful action steps.

Some smokers may be ready to set a quit date. Setting a goal can increase your motivation to quit.

Use these guidelines for the words “patient” and “caregiver.”

When addressing the patient/reader, we use “you.” When writing about patients in the third person, we try to use “person/people” rather than “patient/patients.” Refer to patients as living with a disease and don’t define them by the disease. Sometimes, “people” doesn’t fit the context of the sentence, so use “patients” instead. The person taking care of the patient (a friend, family member, home health aide) should be referred to as a “caregiver.”


Through our Patient-to-Patient Support Program, you have a chance to speak with former patients and caregivers.

Many people with prostate cancer need emotional support.
The person with type 2 diabetes is taking her medication regularly.

The patient is type 2 diabetic.

Include culturally appropriate material.

When creating patient and caregiver education materials, take the following under consideration:

  • Socioeconomic status of your audience (sex, race/ethnicity, income, education levels).

  • Cultural practices, preferences, and sensitivities related to your topic.

  • Differences in sexuality. Don’t assume the reader is heterosexual. Alter language to account for LGBT populations.
  • Barriers to behavior change.

  • Effective motivators (benefits of change, fear of consequences, incentives, or social support).

Use gender-inclusive language.

Use gender-inclusive language that avoids bias toward a particular sex or social gender. Replace gendered pronouns (he, his, she, her, etc.) by rewriting your sentence; see the example. Recast your sentence in the plural. If necessary, use “they” as a singular pronoun.

All patients must bring their identification to the hospital.

Each patient must bring his or her identification to the hospital.

Repeat the noun.

If you would like information or counseling about nutrition, call 212-639-7071 to set up an appointment with a dietitian. He or she can help you plan a healthy diet and lifestyle.

If you would like information or counseling about nutrition, call 212-639-7071 to set up an appointment with a dietitian. Your dietitian can help you plan a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Limit the use of jargon, technical, or scientific language. Limit the use of symbols and statistics. Use generic words such as most, many, and half. Spell out complex words phonetically when necessary.

You will learn how to use an incentive spirometer (in-sen-tiv-spir-om-eh-ter).

The NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms is a helpful resource for simple definitions and pronunciations. You can also refer to our Plain Language Alternatives list for simple words that can replace complex ones.

There may be medical terms that a care team wants a patient to be familiar with. These words may need a plain language definition. But you should be consistent in using the same medical phrase throughout the document.

Use analogies familiar to your audience.

When making comparisons, use references that people will recognize.

Feel for lumps about the size of a pea.

Feel for lumps about 5 to 6 millimeters in diameter.

Avoid unnecessary abbreviations and acronyms.

Provide the term first, followed by the acronym/abbreviation in parentheses. Afterwards, use the acronym/abbreviation in place of the term.

The most common kind of sleep apnea is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA can cause serious problems after surgery.

Print-friendly Formats

Use adequate white space for infographics and page margins.

This provides visual breaks that encourage the reader to keep reading. Avoid decreasing margins to force text to fit on 1 page. Top and bottom margins should be at least 1 inch, and side margins should be at least 1.25 inches. Always consider how best to make use of any white space that may be left over. You may be able to add space between paragraphs or increase the font size of text or headings.

Provide descriptive headings to separate different sections of the document.

This will help patients and caregivers navigate your document and process information more quickly and effectively. Headings should be specific and graphically emphasized to stand out.

Note: see the Style and Usage section for specific guidelines on titles, headings, and subheadings.

Use font sizes between 12 and 14 points.

Anything less than 12 points can be too small to read for many audiences. Older people and people who have trouble reading or seeing may need larger print. For headings, use a font size at least 2 points larger than the main text size.

Use fonts that are easy to read.

For the body of the text, use fonts with serifs (the little “feet” on letters), like Georgia or Times New Roman. Serif fonts are usually easier to read than sans-serif fonts in lines of text. Don’t use fancy or script lettering. Use dark letters on a light background. Light text on a dark background is harder to read.

Keep the following style tips in mind.

Use both upper- and lower-case letters. Don’t use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. ALL CAPS ARE HARD TO READ. Use bold type (not italics) to emphasize critical medical instructions; bold the entire sentence.

Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery. This includes water, hard candy, and gum.

Limit the use of italics or underlining. They’re hard to read. Punctuation following an italicized word should not take its formatting (italics or bold). However, italicize the name of publications that are referenced in the document.

Your nurse will give you the resource Getting Ready for Surgery.

How to Test for Readability


Readability formulas can be useful tools. They provide a general idea of how hard a document will be to read based on the average syllables per word and average words per sentence. However, the use of readability formulas alone doesn’t guarantee well-written, understandable content. They should only be used with other means of assessing effectiveness.

  • Formulas don’t take overall organization, formatting, or page density into account, all of which significantly have an impact on readability.
  • Sometimes you can’t avoid using multi-syllable words like “mammography” or “immunization.” Try to substitute them with “breast x-ray” and “shot.” Be sure to adequately define the terms. This will slightly increase your target grade level.
  • The number of syllables doesn’t always correspond to how easy a word is to read and understand. For instance, “comprise” is a 2-syllable word that’s often misunderstood. Similarly, the number of words doesn’t always correspond to how easy a sentence is to read.
  • See the Plain Language Alternatives list for simple words that can replace complex ones.
  • Readability formulas will provide an approximate grade level score; however, it’s still important to be conscious of the overall quality of the text. It’s possible to write using short words and sentences that are still difficult for the average reader to comprehend.
  • All MSK patient-facing content should be as close to a grade 6 reading level as possible.

Reduce reading level before using formulas

There are several basic techniques to lower the reading level of your document. Begin by reducing the number of words per sentence and by using 1- and 2-syllable words when possible. Reducing these numbers can improve reading ease. Look for the number of times passive voice is used in your document. Change to an active voice when possible; this improves readability.


Heart disease and lung cancer are caused by smoking. (passive voice)

Smoking causes heart disease and lung cancer. (active voice)

Online Readability Test Tool

This tool calculates readability level.

Before you plug the text into the readability software, “clean up” the document. Delete:

  • Headers
  • Numbers
  • Images/graphics
  • Hyphens
  • Complicated medical terminology that’s necessary to be understood by the reader.

Once you have “cleaned up” the sentences, paste them into the Online Readability Test Tool. The measure of readability indicates how many years of education (based on the U.S. education system) that a person needs to be able to easily understand the text on the first reading.

The Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT)

The PEMAT is a systematic method to evaluate and compare the understandability and actionability of written and video materials. It’s designed as a guide to tell whether people will be able to understand and act on information. There are separate tool kits for use with print (PEMAT-P) and audiovisual materials (PEMAT-A/V).

PEMAT is only for printable and audiovisual materials. It can’t be used for podcasts or to assess the user friendliness of websites (only materials that can be printed or viewed from a website).

For PaCE: Whenever possible, use PEMAT-P or PEMAT-A/V to evaluate new and existing patient and caregiver resources.

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Grammar and Punctuation

This style guideline adopts the usage rules of the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style.

Common Grammatical Errors


Instead of using the phrase “and/or,” use the following formula: “a and/or b” = “a, b, or both.”

You can eat yogurt, cheese, or both.


Avoid using i.e. and e.g. Whenever possible, just use “such as.” Example: Drink only clear fruit juices (such as apple, cranberry, or grape).

If you are simplifying a document that uses these abbreviations, these are the definitions.

“i.e.” means “in other words” or “in essence” and is used to provide clarification.

I am passionate about self-supported bicycle touring, i.e., traveling hundreds and thousands of miles on a bike with all my camping gear and other supplies.

“e.g.” means “for example” and is used to provide an example of something.

Stop taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (e.g., Advil®, Motrin®) and naproxen (e.g., Aleve®).


Unless included in the Terminology Section, defer to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style. Another resource is the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms


Use the serial comma to separate items in a series.

When you come to the hospital, bring your insurance card, identification, and medication.

Use a comma to set off most introductory phrases.

Once you decide to have surgery, it can usually be scheduled within 1 or 2 weeks.

Use commas between groups of 3 digits, counting from the right.



Avoid using semicolons. Any sentence that calls for one is probably too complex and should be revised.


Use a colon to introduce an element or a series of elements illustrating what preceded the colon; it should generally convey the sense of “as follows.” In a sentence, insert 1 space after the colon and don’t capitalize the first word following the colon.

The pancreas is made up of 3 parts: the head, the body, and the tail end.

Use a colon to introduce a bulleted or numbered list.

You should bring the following items to the hospital on the day of your surgery:

  • A small toiletry kit
  • A robe
  • Slippers


Use a hyphen in a compound word and name and to divide a word for a line break. The exception is words that are commonly seen together (especially medical terms).

Examples of exceptions:

  • breast cancer treatment
  • basic science research
  • bone marrow transplantation

Compound words formed with prefixes and suffixes are generally closed, whether they’re nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.


  • anticancer
  • noncancerous

A hyphen should appear:

  • Before a capitalized word or a number (non-Hodgkin, pre-1950s)

  • Before a compound term (non-cancer-related)

  • To separate repeated vowels or other combinations of letters that may cause misreading (anti-inflammatory)

  • For the word “free” do not hyphenate as a rule, only when used as a compound: She is cancer free. The cancer-free sample was a relief.
  • Don’t use hyphens after an adverb ending in “ly.”

    rapidly growing cancer

    early-stage lung cancer

Adjectival compounds involving more and less/lesser may be hyphenated for the sake of clarity, but otherwise are left open.

a more effective treatment, but more-effective treatments

When using a number and a noun together, insert a hyphen before the noun (except when referring to any information that may be on a patient’s prescription label).

5- to 10-minute intervals
8-ounce glass

it’s 3 inches high
a 3 mL syringe

Age is hyphenated in both noun and adjective form (except as noted in last 2 examples).

a 24-year-old patient

the patient is 36 years old

To confirm if a word should be hyphenated, refer to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and/or the Terminology section. Meriam Webster also has a helpful site on hyphenating compound words.


Use parentheses to set off material from surrounding text or around definitions of unfamiliar terms.

Always lowercase the first letter of a word in parenthetical copy, unless it’s a proper noun.

Depending on your bladder function before having your procedure, you may be incontinent (not able to control your urination).
Your appointment is at the Breast and Imaging Center (300 East 66th Street).


Limit the use of italics, which are hard to read. Don’t use italics to emphasize critical instructions. Bold the entire sentence instead.

If a foreign word is found in Merriam-Webster (for example, in vivo, in vitro), it shouldn’t be italicized. Words not found in MW should be set in quotes.

Punctuation following an italicized or bolded word should not take its formatting (italicized or bolded). Italicize the names of human and animal genes, and initial cap. But don’t follow this rule for proteins or gene groups. It’s BRCA1 gene, but BRCA gene and p53 protein. Italicize the name of publications (such as education materials) that are referenced in a document.

Your nurse will give you the resource Getting Ready for Surgery.

Quotation Marks

Periods and commas always go inside the closing quotation mark.

Squiggly said, “I hate packing for a vacation.”
“I hate packing for a vacation,” said the yellow snail.

Semicolons, colons, asterisks, and dashes always go outside the closing quotation mark.

I love “Ode to Ants”; it’s insightful and moving.
“Ode to Ants”: A Moving and Insightful Song

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Style and Usage


Follow United States Postal Service formatting for writing addresses.

Town, State Zip


Patient and Caregiver Engagement
3rd Floor
405 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10174

Names of states should be spelled out, unless they are given as part of a postal address with a zip code. Then the two-letter postal abbreviation should be used (without periods).

Spell out East, West, North, South, Street, Avenue, Road. For Manhattan street addresses, spell out numbered avenues. Numerals are used for street numbers. Example: Third Avenue, but 3rd Street

Memorial Hospital
1275 York Avenue (between East 67th and East 68th Streets)
New York, NY 10065


Don’t use periods in abbreviations.


Don’t use periods in the abbreviations for time of day


Always spell out the full names of institutions, groups, diseases/conditions, medical procedures, etc., at first mention in the document, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. Thereafter, only use the abbreviation.

You will be scheduled for presurgical testing (PST) before your surgery. During your PST visit, you will meet with a nurse practitioner and discuss anesthesia.

As noted above, don’t abbreviate East, West, North and South as E., W., N., S. if they’re part of a street name. Don’t abbreviate as Ave., St., or Rd. if used in a street name. Abbreviate units of measure for dosages but spell out all others, such as for food or fluids.

30 mg
20 mcg

20 pounds
7 ounces
2 tablespoons
90 minutes


Use contractions whenever possible. You should be consistent in the use of contractions, but that is only a guideline if there’s a context for which a contraction doesn’t feel right.

You’re in Suite 3 for this visit.

Do not use contractions when emphasis is needed.

Do not eat or drink anything, including water, hard candy, and gum, 2 hours before your surgery.


Formal and informal designations

Capitalize the full, official names of departments, organizations, institutions, groups, etc.

Integrative Medicine Service
National Cancer Institute
Memorial Hospital

Note: don’t capitalize “the” in the official title

the National Cancer Institute.

Lowercase informal designations of departments, offices, organizations, institutions, etc.


  • the hospital (when referring to Memorial Hospital)
  • the department (when referring to the Interventional Radiology department)

Don’t capitalize the names of diseases, syndromes, diagnostic procedures, anatomical parts, or medical procedures (unless they’re named after someone or are branded).


  • prostate cancer
  • robotic-assisted surgery
  • ultrasound
  • lymph nodes


  • Down syndrome
  • Ewing’s sarcoma
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Tenckhoff® catheter

Don’t capitalize the word “stage” in relation to cancer staging

stage 1 breast cancer

Don’t capitalize the word “phase” in relation to clinical trials

phase 3 clinical trial


Always capitalize categories of race/ethnicity


  • African Americans; African American culture
  • American Indians
  • Arabs; Arabians
  • Asians; Asian American
  • Black
  • Caucasians; a Caucasian
  • Hispanics; a Hispanic
  • Jews; a Jew; Jewish ethnicity
  • Latinos; a Latino (male); a Latina (female)
  • Native Americans; Native American poetry
  • White


Don’t capitalize seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall).

Titles, headings, and subheadings

Use APA title case capitalization style for resource titles and headings of main sections.

Capitalize the first word.

Capitalize all other major words (nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs).

Capitalize all words of 4 letters or more.


  • Fertility and Cancer Treatment: Information for Women
  • About Your Lung Surgery
  • Before Your Surgery
  • After Your Surgery

In subheadings, use sentence case (only capitalize the first word).

Heading: Your Gallbladder
Subheading 1: Laparoscopic cholecystectomy
Subheading 2: About open-procedure cholecystectomy

In hyphenated compounds in titles and headings, capitalize both the first and second elements .

Instructions for Bowel Preparation for a Same-Day Surgery Admission
Pediatric Neuro-Oncology

If the first element is only a prefix or combined form that could not stand by itself as a word (anti, pre, etc.), don’t capitalize the second element unless it’s a proper noun or proper adjective.

Anti-inflammatory Medication

Capitalize the second element in a hyphenated, spelled-out number (Twenty-One, Twenty-First) or hyphenated simple fractions (Two-Thirds Majority).  

When referring to the title of a publication, italicize the title

Your nurse will give you the resource Getting Ready for Surgery.


General rules

Use numerals for all units of measure, including the number of days/weeks. Spell out a number when it begins a sentence. Spell out the number if its use doesn’t refer to a numerical value.

You will receive a blister pack with 3 pills. The one in the middle will be a green color.

If a number begins a bullet point in a list, don’t spell it out.

You will need the following supplies:

  • 2 Primapore® dressings
  • 4 (30 mL) syringes
  • Mild soap and water

Always insert a space between the number and unit of measure, except for percentages; see below.

2 days, 1 week, 24 hours, 40 mg, 4 pills

If 2 units of measure are being used side-by-side, put the second unit of measure in parentheses.

You should drink 8 (8-ounce) glasses of liquids a day.

Always superscript ordinals.

11th floor; East 67th Street

Units for repeated quantities/ranges

For expressions including 2 or more quantities, use the word “to” rather than a hyphen or en-dash.

35% to 50%
75° F to 86° F
2 to 14 days
3 to 6 weeks

To indicate inclusive dates and numbers in running text, use the words “from,” “to,” and “between.” Don’t use a hyphen or an en-dash as a substitute for “to” in running text.

Your nurse will call you sometime between 8:00 am and 2:00 pm. The department is open from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm.


Use decimals instead of fractions when possible, except in recipes. Always use numerals when writing fractions. Don’t spell them out. Use a condensed symbol for fractions.




Round decimals and percentages to the nearest decimal point.


  • 9.61 is rounded to 9.6
  • 2.67% is rounded to 2.7%


Always express percentages in numerals. When possible, avoid unnecessary precision by using proportions that are easy to understand (about 1 in 4 people vs. 23%). Don’t insert a space between the numeral and the symbol.



For degrees of temperature, use the degree symbol (°) to convey degrees of temperature. Insert a space between the numeral and the symbol. Don’t insert a space between the symbol and the following letter.

Call your doctor if your temperature is 100.4 °F (38 °C) or higher.

Spell out the word “degree” to convey degrees in an angle.

The range of motion restriction can be 45, 60, or 90 degrees.

Insert a hyphen between the number and the word if the degree is serving as an adjective.

Sit in an upright position (at least a 45-degree angle) during your tube feeding.


Use numerals for times (with zeroes for even hours) when exact times are emphasized

8:00 am, 7:45 pm

Always insert a space between the time and “AM” and “PM.” Format am and pm as small caps. In Word, you can find this option by clicking the small box in the bottom right corner of the area of the toolbar that is second from the left, labeled Font. Select small caps.

Don’t use numbers to express “noon” or “midnight.” Use “30 minutes” not “a half hour.” Use “90 minutes” not “an hour and a half.” To show a time frame, use “to” instead of a hyphen, as in 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Use Eastern Time for time zone (not Eastern Standard Time).

Plural numbers

Spelled-out numbers form their plurals as other nouns do.

The patients were in their twenties and thirties.

Phone numbers

Always include the area code and separate the prefix and suffix with a hyphen. Don’t include a country code.


If a phone number spells something, first give the phone number with letters included and then write out the number using only digits.

800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237)


Use cardinal numbers for dates. Don’t use ordinals unless the date precedes the month or stands alone.


  • May 20, 2012 (not May 20th, 2012)
  • on the 20th of May
  • on the 20th

To indicate inclusive dates and numbers in running text, use the words “from” and “to.” Do not use a hyphen or an en-dash as a substitute for “to” or “through.” Use Monday through Friday, not Monday to Friday.


Decades are either spelled out and lowercased or expressed in numerical form. Don’t use an apostrophe between the year and the “s.”


  • the nineties
  • the 1980s and 1990s

Branding and Registered Trademarks (Names of Medicines and Supplies)


On first mention of a medication, use the brand name and registered trademark followed by the generic brand name in parentheses. Use only the brand name in subsequent mentions. This applies to all medications, including both prescription and over-the-counter.

The brand name should always have an initial cap.

The generic name should always be lowercase unless it’s the first word of a sentence or bullet point.

The registered trademark should always be superscripted.


  • Decadron® (dexamethasone)
  • Advil® (Ibuprofen)
  • Tylenol® (acetaminophen)

Surgical and medical supplies

The brand names of surgical and medical supplies should also include a superscripted registered trademark (® or ), if needed. The registered trademark should only be included in the first mention of the brand name. Look the item up if you’re not sure if it has a registered trademark or not.


  • Steri-Strips
  • Hibiclens®
  • Tegaderm® CHG

Rules about MSK Names and Places

First mention of institution

When MSK is first mentioned, use Memorial Sloan Kettering followed by the acronym in parentheses (MSK). For each subsequent mention, use the acronym MSK. Do not use Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center or MSKCC.

This guide will help you get ready for your lung surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK). At MSK, we want to keep you safe during your surgery.

Memorial Hospital is the patient care arm of MSK. Do not abbreviate. If referring to Memorial Hospital generally (as in, “the hospital”) capitalization is not necessary.

The Sloan Kettering Institute is the basic research arm of MSK. Abbreviated SKI. If referring to SKI generally (as in “the institute”) capitalization is not necessary. The article “the” should precede SKI when it is spelled out and used as a noun. However, when SKI is spelled out and serves as an adjective that qualifies another noun (Sloan Kettering Institute’s Molecule Biology Program), the “the” may be dropped.

Naming guidelines specific to the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering

First use in all print/digital content: the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Subsequent may be shortened to (in order of preference):

1. the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering

2. the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at MSK

3. the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care (1st choice for 2nd use in internal materials)

Second verbal reference (leadership talking points/speeches at opening) may be shortened to the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care. For clinical applications such as Cadence and/or MyMSK that may have character limitations, use the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering or  the David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at MSK.

Departments, divisions, services, etc.

Department, division, service, and program titles are capitalized. Please make sure you use the correct name of the department, service, etc., by referring to the most recent Physician Referral Guide, Annual Report, or related publication.

Preferred usage:

  • Division of Nursing, not Nursing Department
  • Thoracic Oncology Service
  • Department of Medicine, not Medicine Department
  • Molecular Biology Program, not Program of Molecular Biology
  • but: dermatopathology fellowship training program, not Dermatopathology Fellowship Training Program


Capitalize official titles for people who are affiliated with MSK (such as award winners or guest speakers) or who have additional non-MSK titles (such as Board members).

Board member Ben W. Heineman, Senior Vice President for Law and Public Affairs
Marks Prize winner Yuan Chang, a professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute

Use “Chair” in reference to individuals (male or female) who chair MSK departments or programs or Society committees or programs. If two or more people share a committee or program chair, the correct designation is Co-Chair. Note: Chair, not Chairman. The only Chairman is the Chairman of MSK’s board


Network sites can be on Long Island, but they are in a particular city.

The Commack site is on Long Island; the regional network site is in Hauppauge.

To be sure you have the current proper name for MSK facilities see

Quick reference to MSK facility names (as of August 2020):

  • Bendheim Integrative Medicine Center
  • Breast Examination Center of Harlem
  • David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering [see below]
  • Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center, not MSK 64th Street
  • MSK Ralph Lauren Center
  • Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion
  • Sidney Kimmel Center for Prostate and Urologic Cancers, or the Kimmel Center
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Basking Ridge, or MSK Basking Ridge
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth, or MSK Monmouth
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Commack, or MSK Commack
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Hauppauge, or MSK Hauppauge
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Nassau, or MSK Nassau
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Rockville Centre, or MSK Rockville Centre
  • Memorial Sloan Kettering Westchester in West Harrison, or MSK Westchester

Clinician names

Space the initials in a person’s name.

A. M. Holmes, Marcel R. M. van den Brink

Bad breaks: Avoid breaking names of people, titles of works (books or studies), or titles of events. Two-word surnames, such as Del Valle, count as one word and should not be broken. Do not separate titles (Dr.), degrees (PhD, DDS), or Mr., Mrs., Ms. from names.

After first mention, use Dr. Smith (for those with MD, PhD, DO, DPhil, or other doctoral degrees), Mr. Smith, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Smith, etc. (Writer should determine preference.) For nurses, use Mr., Ms., Mrs., or Miss, except for nurses who have PhD degrees; for them, use Dr. [No Mr./Ms. honorifics for OneMSK, but Dr. for MDs)

Word Choices

Research studies and clinical trials

When discussing clinical research in a broad context, say “research studies.”

When discussing clinical trials specifically, say “research studies, also known as clinical trials” at first mention, then refer to them as clinical trials from there on out in the resource. Clinical trials specifically refer to therapeutic, phase-based interventional studies.

Doctor, physician, healthcare provider, primary care provider

Always use the word doctor, not physician (except for physician assistant). Use healthcare provider instead of clinician, and when referring to a range of providers (for example, doctors, RNs, or PAs).  Use primary care provider, not primary care doctor, because some PCPs aren’t doctors. 

Annual, yearly, every year

Avoid using annual to describe an annual physical or screening. Depending on the context, use “every year” as your first choice, or yearly. 

The following words and phrases should be used (also see the Terminology guide):

  • bloodstream (1 word)
  • breastfeed (1 word)
  • computed tomography (not computer tomography or computer axial tomography) da Vinci surgical system
  • dietitian (not dietician)
  • email (not hyphenated)
  •  end-of-life care (hyphenated) but decisions at the end of life (no hyphen)
  • external beam radiation therapy (no hyphen) follow-up (always hyphenated)
  • gallbladder (not gall bladder) healthcare (noun and adjective)
  • healthcare provider (use as a general term for all clinicians where appropriate)
  • Health Care Proxy form (“form” doesn’t have an initial cap) Health care agent (name of person)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma (but Hodgkin’s disease) homecare (1 word)
  • impact is used as noun, not a verb
  • inpatient (1 word)
  • in vitro/in vivo (not italicized) Internet (capitalized)
  • LGBTQ, preferred over LGBT
  • login (your password and username; noun)
  • log on (to give your password and username; verb)
  • log onto (as in “please log onto MyMSK”)
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • non-melanoma
  • non-small cell lung cancer
  • nurse practitioner (not hyphenated)
  • ob-gyn (abbreviation for the practitioner of) OB-GYN (abbreviation for the practice of) online (1 word, not hyphenated)
  • orthopedics BUT Orthopaedic Surgery Service and Orthopaedic Fellowship Program
  • outpatient (1 word, and preferred to “ambulatory”)
  • over-the-counter (hyphenated if serving as a modifier, i.e., over-the-counter medication) Pap smear (capitalize “Pap”)
  • pediatric (adjective) pediatrics (noun)
  • physician assistant (not physician’s assistant)
  • post-op
  • preventative (not preventive)
  • sentinel node biopsy (no hyphens) small cell lung cancer (no hyphens)
  • T cell (always open as a noun, hyphenated as adjective, e.g., T-cell damage) thigh bone (2 words)
  • type 1 diabetes/type 2 diabetes (not hyphenated) ultrasound (1 word)
  • under way (not underway) von Hippel-Lindau disease website (lowercase; 1 word) well being (2 words)
  • username, not user name
  • Wilms’ tumor
  • x-ray (lowercase; hyphenated)

Format Guidelines

Titles, headings, and subheadings

They shouldn’t exceed the length of 1 complete sentence. No end punctuation is needed. Try not to end with a preposition (at, with, by, for, from, in, like, of, on, to). If the document is in FAQ format, the question headings should be in sentence case. See the Style and Usage section for capitalization guidelines.

Line breaks

Avoid separating a unit of measure from its number (don’t separate 20 // mg or 8 // weeks).

Avoid separating parts of a phone number (don’t separate 212//639-//2000).

Avoid breaking terms that are already hyphenated (high-/fat).

Don’t break words within headlines.


There is only 1 space between sentences and following a colon.

Orphans and widows

When possible, avoid orphans (a single word or part of a word at the end of a paragraph that’s on its own separate line) and widows (a very short line at the top of a page). Instruct graphics to break the line as appropriate.

Internal and external patient resources

When referring a patient to an internal resource on the Patient and Caregiver Education website, write the resource’s title with a hyperlink or provide a shortened URL.

For more information, read the resource Getting Ready for Surgery.

Always check to make sure that the contact information (including address, phone number, and URL) of MSK services listed is correct. If outside resources are included at the end of a document, always include the full name of the organization, phone number, and URL.

The American Urologic Association Foundation


Always check that the URL is still active. All URLs should take the reader directly to the target location. For example, if you were including a link to the CDC website for information about hand hygiene, copy the URL that would take the reader directly to the information about hand hygiene, not to the home page of the CDC website.

Include www. in front of URLs. Don’t include http:// in front of URLs.

If you must break a URL, do so before a hyphen or period if there is one in the site name, and otherwise as logically as possible. Don’t use a hyphen (if readers type the hyphen into the browser it breaks the URL). When using a URL in text, don’t include a period at the end of the URL, unless there’s a sentence that comes directly after it.

When giving directions to access a link, use “tap” or “touch” for a touchscreen, not “click.” When referring to a non-touch screen computer, use “click.” When referring to all devices, use “select.”

Select the home button on the top right of the screen.

How to Format Lists

Use bulleted lists to break up content and provide clarity in the document.

Always initial cap the first word in a bullet, even if it only consists of 1 or 2 words.

Use a colon prior to list if there is an introductory phrase. Insert a period at the end of each bullet point that’s a complete sentence or forms a complete sentence when paired with the list stem.

After surgery:

  • You’ll wake up in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU). You’ll probably spend your first night there.
  • Soon after you return to your room, you’ll be helped out of bed to a chair.

Don’t include a period at the end of each bullet point if the bullets consist of individual elements (side effects, symptoms) or items (list of equipment).

The side effects of this medication are different depending on the person. Below are the most common side effects. You may have none, some, or all of these:

  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dry mouth, eyes, and skin

Gather the following equipment:

  • Waste basket
  • 2 Primapore® dressings
  • 4 (30 mL) syringes

When giving instructions to patients, such as how to perform postoperative exercises, use numbers rather than bullets so that the order is clear. But try to break up long instructions with subheadings, such as “Remove the dressing,” so that you can start renumbering and avoid long instructions with dozens of steps.

Back Climb

  1. Place your hands behind your back and grasp your involved hand.

  2. Slowly slide your hands up the center of your back as far as possible.

  3. Hold the highest position for 1 minute.


Any illustrations in patient education materials should be referred to as “figures.” After the text that corresponds to the figure, insert (see Figure X) at the end of the sentence.

Your digestive system is made up of organs that break down food, absorb nutrients, and remove waste from your body. They include your mouth, esophagus (food pipe), stomach, small intestine, colon (large intestine), rectum, and anus (see Figure 1).

Include a figure caption under the figure. Figure captions should be centered under the figure. They should include a brief description of what the figure is. They should be in sentence case (initial cap only). The figure number should be followed by a period, then a description of the figure.

Example of a figure

Figure 8. Opening plug at end of feeding tube

Figure 8. Opening plug at end of feeding tube


When creating/editing resources on Drupal, insert icons via HTML code. See the HTML Style Guide for more information.



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Communicating Data

If using data to communicate health information, use the following guidelines to make the content clear and readable.

Using Numbers

  • Present numbers using familiar metrics, such as the number of people affected, a percentage, or dollars.
  • Limit yourself to communicating 3 or fewer numbers.
  • Round decimals and percentages to the nearest decimal point (9.61 is rounded to 9.6; 2.67% is rounded to 2.7%). But use your judgement if you’re doing a conversion where using decimal points may not make sense and using a whole number does make sense. For temperatures, always round to the decimal point.
  • When possible, avoid unnecessary precision by using proportions that are easy to understand (about 1 in 4 people vs. 23%).

Making Comparisons

When making comparisons, use analogies that your audience will understand.

Feel for lumps about the size of a pea.

Feel for lumps about 5 to 6 millimeters in diameter.

Communicating Risk

Communicate risk using everyday terms, such as:

  • Much higher
  • Much lower
  • Low risk
  • High risk
  • Most of the time
  • More likely to
  • Less likely to

    People who have been exposed to high levels of UV light are at greater risk for skin cancer.

    One way to increase clarity is to ground or anchor verbal qualifiers with the actual numbers of interest

    The chances of X are low. Only 5% or 5 in 100 people experience it.

    Keep in mind whether you are communicating absolute or relative risk. The risk of something is the odds of it taking place. The absolute risk of something happening is the odds of that happening over a stated time period. The relative risk of something happening is where you compare the odds for two groups against each other. More information is available here.

Figures, Tables, and Charts

Use figures, tables, and charts to make comparisons and to display individual numeric values. Make sure that column and row headings are clear and easy to understand. Present numbered column labels and row labels in order. Use boldfacing or color to draw attention to significant findings.

Types of Figures, Tables, and Charts

Type Best Usage Do Do not
Pie Chart
  • Show proportions/percentages, especially their comparison, for a total of 100%
  • Good for highlighting the largest or smallest piece of something
  • Make sure the largest slice is pointed at 12:00
  • Display slices clockwise in descending order
  • Use short labels and position them horizontally and outside the pie
  • Show more than 6 slices
Line Graph

Good for showing:

  • A connected sequence of data, such as trends over time
  • Before and after differences
  • If numbers are going up, down, or remaining stable
  • Use arrows or text to highlight key events or data
  • Place labels close to their lines
  • Include baseline data for comparison purposes
  • Use short and easy-to-understand titles, labels, and key messages
  • Add unnecessary labels or symbols
  • Use more than 4 trend lines
  • Individual graphical elements, such as circles, human figures, etc., are used to represent quantitative data
  • Good for showing rankings or ratings in tabular display
  • Good for displaying probability data representing absolute risk
  • Use body-shaped figures to represent humans when it seems appropriate
  • Place icons representing numerator values contiguously
  • Use common denominators between two arrays
  • Highlight numerator icons
  • Distort data; make sure to carefully increase the height and width of icons when showing change in magnitude

Types of Figures, Tables, and Charts, ctd.

Type Best Usage Do Do not
Visual Scales
  • Use where numbers are ordered and there are equal distances between intervals, or where numbers are ordered but the intervals between values may be uneven
  • Use scales that are familiar, such as thermometers and meters, with meaningful colors and arrows or lines showing a range of values
  • Use scales to visually represent risk (probability) data, and absolute risk data and comparisons
  • Provide anchoring information (lines or arrows) to give contextual cues and orient the audience to baseline data
  • Include short titles and key messages
  • Follow conventional approaches for data presentation (e.g., red to indicate higher levels of threat in the US)
  • Underestimate the role of emotion and perceived inequity if scales are used in involuntary exposure situations
  • Include too much information
Data Maps
  • Help illustrate how frequencies are distributed geographically
  • Support interpretive tasks, such as comparisons
  • Use colors or shading to show data ranges
  • Use lines to distinguish geographic borders
  • Write clear titles and make labels short and to-the-point
  • Use callouts to highlight regions when necessary
  • Use color to illustrate variation in data
  • Use a sequential progression of colors from light to dark
  • Place red and green side by side
  • Use more than 3 or 4 colors or assume that color schemes displayed on computer monitors will looks the same in print

Letters, Numbers, and Symbols

When you use symbols, be sure they can be easily recognized and understood across different cultures. Use the recommendations in this table when using symbols to communicate quality of evidence and the balance between benefits and harm.

Examples of possible symbols for representing quality of evidence and the balance between benefits and harm in health care recommendations

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Style Guidelines: PaCE Patient Education Materials

Repeated content should be consistent across patient education materials that are about a similar topic. Copy and paste this text when needed.

Modify the content when necessary but avoid significant changes without discussing them with leadership of the stakeholder departments (such as PST, anesthesia).

Style: Introductory Statements

The first line of the document should serve as a summary of the information, including who the document is for and what the learning objectives are. “This information” should always be the first two words of the sentence, but the rest of the sentence will differ depending on the content.


  • This information will help you understand advanced cancer of the oral cavity.
  • This information describes surgery using a local flap.
  • This information will help you get ready for your esophagectomy surgery.
  • This information will help you care foryour peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) at home.

If the document is in the “frequently asked questions” format, an introductory statement isn’t necessary providing the information is captured in the title.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hereditary Polyposis Syndromes

Surgical Guides

  • The most current print version of the surgical guide is located in the folder (log in first or email PaCE for access) at Medicine\Patient Education\Review Toolbox\Surgical Guide Template
  • The most current web/HTML version of the surgical guide template can be accessed (log in first or email PaCE for access) here.


Leave space for patients and caregivers to write in information throughout the booklet. Insert notes sections where there’s empty space. Insert blank lines in “What to bring” and “What to remember” bulleted lists.

For the online version, make sure the content makes sense when reading it on the website, as opposed to booklet form.

  • Use hyperlinks whenever possible and practical.
  • Remove the words “located in this section” when referring to inserts.
  • Remove lines/spaces to write notes.
  • Remove checkboxes; use normal bullets instead.

Consistency of text

Refer to the surgical guide template. Some text may not be included in all booklets; change/delete as appropriate.

Section titles

When referring to a section of the booklet, put the section title in quotes.

For more information, see the “Medications” section of this guide.

Clinical information

When referring to vital signs, specify what they are, and keep the terminology consistent.

While you’re recovering in the PACU, your nurse will be monitoring your temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen level.

When instructing patients to tell their HCP about medications they’re taking, mention the use of patches and creams.

Tell your MRI technologist about any medications you’re taking, including patches and creams.

Radiation Oncology

The most current version of the radiation oncology resource template can be accessed here (log in first or email PaCE for access)

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Style Guidelines: MyMSK

Character/word length limits and emergency banner in MyMSK

There is a 255-character limit for the emergency banner.

Regular announcements in MyMSK

Headlines have a limit of 32 characters. Subheads have a limit of 120 charactersUse sentence case for headlines

Welcome to the new MyMSK
What’s new at MyMSK: A new look, a Cancer Knowledge Center that shares what we know about cancer, and updated user terms

Consent form for televisits
Televisits allow you to have a visit with your care team from home. Complete the required consent form to participate.

General style rules for MyMSK

Word choice and tone

Keep a consistent style on the landing page for each section. Start sentences with similar wording and use parallel structure.

Medical Documents
See medical documents here, including your care plan and visit notes.

Appointment Summaries
See the summaries from visits with your healthcare providers.

See the medications we have on record for you. You can also update your medication list and request refills here.

Section summaries

Start with the phrase “Here’s where…”

Patient Education
Here’s where you can review all the educational information your healthcare providers sent to you as part of your care, including resource guides and videos.

Here’s where you can complete the questionnaires your healthcare team needs to give you the best care. Completing your questionnaires in Engage is an important part of your care at MSK.

Tech word choices cheat sheet

Options for referring to MyMSK: our patient portal, MyMSK; MyMSK, our patient portal (not: the MSK patient portal)

  • email (not e-mail)
  • website (not Web site)
  • user name (not username)
  • Internet (capitalized)
  • login (your password and user name; noun) Example: What’s your login information?
  • log in (to give your password and user name; verb) Example: Please log in here.
  • log onto Example: Please log onto MyMSK to see the message.
  • online (1 word, not hyphenated)

Patient Questionnaires (Engage)


Descriptions should provide action and value for the patient. Notification subject line is a maximum of 90 characters.

Standard of care examples:

  • Please answer these questions so your healthcare team can decide whether you’ll need a pregnancy test before your radiology test.
  • Please answer these questions to keep your InSight Care team informed about your symptoms.

Research examples:

  • Please complete this questionnaire to help us understand how the cost of cancer care is affecting you. This is part of a research study you have been invited to join (X19-043).
  • Please complete this questionnaire to tell us some basic information about yourself. This is part of a telemedicine research study you’re taking part in (19-382).

Satisfaction survey template:

  • Template for asking patient to fill out a satisfaction survey. You can include the type of program or service/procedure you’re asking for feedback on. You don’t need the exact program name in the subject line; there are more generic options.   

We invite you to complete a survey about our [X] program

We invite you to complete a survey about your [X] appointment

We invite you to give us your feedback about our [X] program

We invite you to complete a survey today about how you feel (template for same-day survey)

Guidelines for Designing Patient Questionnaires

Keep it short. The total number of items should be under 20. Exception: Special circumstances such as an intake questionnaire.

Based on MSK’s years of experience in the clinical implementation of questionnaires, those with more than 20 items generally have low response rates. This is especially true for questionnaires that are given repeatedly (such as every 3 months to assess recovery of function after surgery).

While we may think it only takes a few minutes more to fill out a longer questionnaire, a patient’s decision to fill out or ignore a questionnaire is more of a gut feeling. Their decision may be colored by the memory of how annoying it was to fill out the last questionnaire.

Use existing MSK items unless there’s a compelling reason not to. Evaluate existing questions for opportunities for alignment.

Before Engage, patient feedback showed strong dislike for multiple questionnaires that asked similar questions in different ways. Existing MSK items have been through several rounds of evaluation and review. Key leaders from the Department of Psychiatry, for example, chose questions on depression and anxiety after a literature review and discussion.

Use standard items unless there’s a compelling reason not to.

Prioritize using questions from validated instruments. Items may need modification to improve readability. See guidelines below on how to write clear questions for patients.

Don’t ask something unless you actually plan to act on the response.

Engage questionnaires are for clinical practice. If clinicians will ignore a question, don’t ask patients to answer it.

A group of surgeons designed standard questionnaire for a particular cancer that included a “Spiritual Concerns Domain” it wanted to implement in clinic. However, if a patient reported high levels of distress on this domain (such as “I feel that my life has no meaning”) the surgeons reported that they couldn’t address it; their clinic time already was strained by treating gross physical morbidities. The surgeons removed the Spiritual Concerns domain from the questionnaire.

Use one question in place of many for domains of secondary importance.

Using single items for domains of secondary importance is a good way to cut instrument length.

Some patients at a clinic report fatigue, but it’s not a particularly common or severe problem. The clinic doctors wanted to use a standard fatigue questionnaire with 10 items (he Brief Fatigue Inventory). Engage suggested that given fatigue wasn’t a key part of the clinic’s practice, it should instead use a 1-question screener about fatigue: “On a 0 to 10 scale, what is your average level of fatigue (feeling excessively tired)?”

Avoid duplicate sets of questions about the same issue.

Similar questions increase questionnaire length and can cause clinical ambiguity. If both the FACT and the HADS questionnaires are used, for example, then patients are asked twice about depression and anxiety in different ways. This can lead to a clinical dilemma if a patient is rated as anxious on one scale but not on another.

Individualize questions to avoid items that don’t apply to a significant portion of patients.

Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. Anything that seems nonsensical to patients will erode their trust in a questionnaire and make them less likely to complete it.

“Have you had hot flashes?” is a standard item on many prostate cancer questionnaires because some patients are on hormone therapy. But that question may baffle patients who aren’t on hormonal therapy; one wrote on a paper questionnaire, “I’m not a woman you know.”

Quick Guidelines for Writing Clear Questions for Patients

A thorough guide to writing in plain language is included in a later section of this document; please refer to Style Guidelines: MyMSK. The following tips are geared to patient questionnaires.

Use simple, shorter words instead of longer words.

use “Have you had…” not “Have you experienced…”

Language can be specific to racial or ethnic groups.

The word “erection” isn’t used in parts of the African American community.

Avoid medical jargon when possible.

Many patients don’t understand words that are routinely used by medical professionals. See our Plain Language Alternatives list for simple words that can replace complex words or medical jargon.

Stool and antibiotics are both medical terms that should be defined in plain language: stool (poop) and antibiotics (medicines to treat infections).

Avoid “never” or “always” as a response.

The possible responses to “How often do you experience back pain?” are:

Never/sometimes/about half the time/more than half the time/always.

We assume that there is a spectrum of pain frequency from 0 to 100% and we would like the item responses to be equally spread along this spectrum. But when we use extreme responses (never/always) we decrease the range of the scale associated with these responses and increase the range of the scale associated with sometimes/more than half the time.

  • Use “Never or almost never” not “Never at all.”
  • Use “Are you thirsty all or almost all the time?” not “Are you thirsty all the time?”

Avoid “possible” or “imaginable” as an anchor.

Asking patients to compare their pain to the “worst pain imaginable” is both a test of imagination and of current pain.

Use “Extremely severe pain” not “Worst pain imaginable.”

Avoid free text boxes if possible.

In general, patient responses in free-text boxes can’t be sent to the EMR for actionable purposes.

If the question is “how long have you had this disease?” patients might answer: “2 years; less than 2 years; 2 yrs; since I was 40; or about 3 or 4 months.”

Avoid free text boxes and instead chose clinically important groups:

  • less than 3 months; 3 to 6 months; 7 to 12 months; more than 1 year.

Avoid long lists in a dropdown.

A dropdown menu with more than 10 items is difficult to use. If a dropdown menu lists 50 different cancers, patients may struggle to find their cancer even when the list is in alphabetical order. Cancers can have different names (“osteosarcoma” vs. “sarcoma, bone”) or be categorized in different ways (rectal cancer can be its own category or as “colorectal”).

Lists that are in an unambiguous order, such as a dropdown menu of states or ages.

Avoid ambiguous timeframes.

Questionnaires often ask “exactly how long…?” Instead, ask the question using specific time frames.

“In the past month” not “recently.”
Are you having more bowel movements (pooping) than before your surgery?” not “Are you having more bowel movements (pooping)?”

Use mandatory fields sparingly.

When designing a questionnaire, it’s easy to argue that a certain field is very important and that all patients should complete it. But patients may have good reasons for not wanting to complete that field. Patients also may need to give a response that’s outside the categories we offered them. If a particular field is absolutely mandatory, include options such as “unsure, other, or I don’t want to answer.”

Use skip logic to avoid redundant questions.

Ideally, online questionnaires would mimic a clinic consultation; the next question we ask depends on the answer to the prior question.

For the question “Do you have any trouble walking a mile?” if a patient answered “no,” our next question wouldn’t be “ok, then can you walk half a mile? How about a few blocks?” It’s best to use computer skip logic. The question in this example would only be shown to patients who reported difficulty walking longer distances.

Include “does not apply” for “yes/no” questions unless you are certain that 100% of all patients are in “yes/no” categories.

As with the case of mandatory fields, it may seem that all patients should be able to answer “yes” or “no” to a question. But patients may have many good reasons for not answering yes or no.

In Engage, when we asked, “have you ever smoked even when you were too sick to get out of bed?” some patients who smoked had never been too sick to get out of bed.

Use consistent phrasing and word choices whenever possible.

If different terms are used for the same idea, patients may get confused and wonder if there is a distinction.

In one questionnaire the term “caregiver” was used in one question and “main care partner” in another, making patients wonder if there was a difference between the two. We revised the questionnaire to use “caregiver” throughout.

Style Points for Writing Clear Questions for Patients

Titles of forms displayed in Engage should use plain, patient-facing language.

This plain-language title often will be different from the title that clinicians and researchers use.

Don’t display “IIEF” as a title. Use something like “Sexual Function Questionnaire.”

Capitalize headings of main section

Capitalize the first word and all other major words.

Use sentence case all other times, including option lists.

“The 7 Things You Need to Know About Designing a Patient Questionnaire” is the style for a heading.
Sentence case examples are: “Swelling in your legs” not “Swelling in Your Legs,” and “Right breast” not “Right Breast.”

Use the word “to” rather than a hyphen or en-dash between quantities.

Use “1 to 6 months” not “1-6 months.”

Use numerals for all units of measure, including numbers under 10.

Use “In the last 4 weeks” not “In the last four weeks.”

Insert a space between the numeral and unit of measure.

Use “2 days, 40 mg” not “2days, 40mgs.”

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, italics or underlining for emphasis because they’re hard to read.
  • Do use bold type.
  • Do use font sizes between 12 and 14 points for ease of readability.
  • Don’t use i.e. or e.g; use “such as” or “for example.”
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Style list for certain words and phrases

  • 3-D (no need to spell out three-dimensional)
  • Adviser BUT Care Advisor for MSK Direct
  • bloodstream (1 word)
  • breastfeed (1 word)
  • “CAR therapy” is the therapeutic term; “CAR T cells” are the items
  • computed tomography (not computer tomography or computer axial tomography)
  • data – takes plural verb (The data show…)
  • da Vinci surgical system
  • dietitian (not dietician)
  • email (not hyphenated)
  • external beam radiation therapy (no hyphen) follow-up (always hyphenated)
  • gallbladder (not gall bladder) healthcare (noun and adjective)
  • healthcare provider (use as a general term for all clinicians where appropriate)
  • Health Care Proxy form (“form” doesn’t have an initial cap)
  • Health care agent (name of person)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma (but Hodgkin’s disease)
  • HPV 16, HPV 18 (no hyphen)
  • homecare (1 word)
  • impact (use as noun, not verb)
  • inpatient (1 word)
  • in vitro/in vivo (not italicized)
  • Internet (capitalized)
  • LGBTQ, preferred over LGBT
  • login (your password and user name; noun)
  • log on (to give your password and user name; verb)
  • log onto (as in “please log onto MyMSK”)
  • New York Proton Center (not NYPC)
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • non-melanoma
  • non-small cell lung cancer
  • nurse practitioner (not hyphenated)
  • ob-gyn (abbreviation for the practitioner of)
  • OB-GYN (abbreviation for the practice of)
  • online (1 word, not hyphenated)
  • orthopedics (not orthopaedics)
  • outpatient (1 word)
  • over-the-counter (hyphenated if serving as a modifier: over-the-counter medication)
  • Pap smear (capitalize “Pap”)
  • pediatric (adjective) pediatrics (noun)
  • physician assistant (not physician’s assistant)
  • postdoctoral, not post-doctoral
  • postoperative, not post-operative
  • post-treatment
  • pre-med
  • preoperative (not pre-operative)
  • preventative (not preventive)
  • sentinel node biopsy (no hyphens)
  • small cell lung cancer (no hyphens)
  • T cell (always open as a noun, hyphenated as adjective, e.g., T-cell damage)
  • thigh bone (2 words)
  • type 1 diabetes/type 2 diabetes (not hyphenated)
  • ultrasound (1 word)
  • under way (not underway)
  • user name (not username)
  • von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • website (lowercase; 1 word)
  • well being (2 words)
  • Wilms’ tumor
  • x-ray (lowercase; hyphenated)

Tech word choices cheat sheet

Options for referring to MyMSK: our patient portal, MyMSK; MyMSK, our patient portal (not: the MSK patient portal)

  • email (not e-mail)
  • website (not Web site)
  • user name (not username)
  • Internet (capitalized)
  • login (your password and user name; noun) Example: What’s your login information?
  • log in (to give your password and user name; verb) Example: Please log in here.
  • log onto Example: Please log onto MyMSK to see the message.
  • online (1 word, not hyphenated)

Plain Language Alternatives for Complex Words and Medical Terminology

Suggested instructions: Use the find and replace function (Ctl+F) to find the word you’re looking for.

Plain Language Alternatives for Complex Words and Medical Terminology

Suggested instructions: Use the find and replace function (Ctl+F) to find the word you’re looking for.

Instead of Try This
a number of some, many
abdomen belly, stomach area
abdominal pain pain in your belly
abduction movement away from the middle of the body
ability skill
ablation a way of killing tumor cells by exposing them to extreme temperatures
abrasion scrape, scratch
abscess Sore or wound filled with pus that’s infected
absorb take in fluids, soak up
absorption the way a drug or other substance enters the body
abstain (from) don’t, don’t use, don’t have, go without
accommodate make room for, hold
accompany go (along) with, come with
accomplish carry out, do, finish
accordingly so, for that reason, as a result
accrue add, gain, build up
accumulate add, build up, collect, gather
accurate correct, exact, right
Achilles tendon heel cord
acidosis too much acid in the blood or other bodily fluids
acne pimples
acquire get
activate begin, start
actually really, truly, in fact
acute lasting a short time but often causing a serious problem
addictive habit-forming
additional added, extra, more, other
address talk about, discuss
adduction movement toward the middle of the body
adenohypophysis gland in the brain that makes hormones that control body functions
adequate enough
adhesion tissue stuck together
adjacent next to, by
adjust(ment) (a) change
administer give
adolescent teenager
adrenal gland a gland found over each kidney
advantageous helpful, useful
adverse harmful, bad
adverse reaction bad reaction
adversely impact hurt, set back
advisable wise, makes sense
advise tell, recommend
advocacy support
affect have an effect on, change, upset, move, disturb
affirmative yes, positive
aggravate make worse, worsen
aggregate all together, added together, combined
agitation anxiety, restlessness, nervousness
ailment sickness, illness, health problem, complaint
airway tube through which air passes to enter and leave the lungs
allergen something that causes an allergy
allergic rhinitis hay fever
alleviate ease, decrease, lessen
alleviate your symptoms help you feel better
allocate divide, give based on a plan
allow let
alopecia hair loss
alternative choice, option
ambulate walk
ambulatory able to walk
ameliorate improve, get better, make better
amend change
analgesic pain killer, pain reliever
analyze look at, study
anaphylaxis shock or serious allergic reaction
anesthesia (general) medication that makes you sleep during your surgery
anesthesia (local) medication that numbs an area of your body
angina (or angina pectoris) chest pain
angiogram a procedure that helps the radiologist find a tumor and see which arteries supply it
annually yearly
anterior front
antibiotic medication that kills bacteria and other germs
antibody protein made in the body that protects against infection
anticipate expect
anticoagulant blood thinner
anti-inflammatory helps swelling go down
anxiety very worried, very nervous
aorta the blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body
apparent clear, plain
appears seems
apply put on, use, spread
appreciable many
appreciate, appreciation thankful, thanks
apprise inform, tell
appropriate proper, right
appropriate(ly) correct(ly), proper(ly), right
approximate(ly) about, around, near
area part, patch, place
arrhythmia when the heart doesn’t have a steady beat
arteries blood vessels
arteriosclerosis (or atherosclerosis) hardening of the arteries
articulate say, state, tell
as a means of to
as recommended as you were told by your doctor/nurse/dietitian
ascertain find out, learn
ascorbic acid vitamin C
aspect point of view, part, item
asphyxiate, asphyxiation choke(ing), suffocate(tion)
aspirate, aspiration fluid in the lungs
assay lab test
assess learn about, study
assessment review, test, interview
assist, assistance help, aid
associated (with) linked to, related to
asymptomatic without symptoms
at its source where it starts
at the present time now
atopic dermatitis itchy red rash
attain meet a goal, get
attempt try
audit review, inspect, look at
aural hearing
available ready
bacteria germs
behavior how a person is acting, actions
beneficial helpful, good
benefit (noun) good effect, advantage
benefit (verb) help, be useful to
benign isn’t cancer, not harmful
beta blocker a medication used to slow down the heart
bilateral on both sides
bile a substance make by the liver that helps the body digest fats
biopsy sample of tissue from part of the body
blood glucose blood sugar
blood pressure the pressure of blood on walls of blood vessels
blood profile series of blood tests
blood vessels tubes that carry blood through the body
bloodstream blood
body mass index (BMI) using your height and weight to measure if you’re overweight
bone marrow the soft, spongy center of most large bones
borderline on the edge of, on the line between
bowel preparation cleaning out your intestines
bowels made up of the small and large intestines
bradycardia slow heartbeat
BRCA1/BRCA2 genes genes that are responsible for causing ovarian cancer and breast cancer in family members
briefly for a short time
buttocks butt, backside, rear, rear end
calcification small deposits of calcium in tissue
calculate add up, figure out
capable, capability able, ability
capillary tiny blood vessel that connects arterioles to venules
carcinogen something that can cause cancer
carcinoma cancer
cardiac (of/in/related to) the heart
cardiologist heart doctor
cardiovascular heart and/or blood vessel
carpal wrist
category kind, class, group
catheter a small, flexible tube (for putting fluids into/taking fluids out of the body)
catheterize put a tube into (part of the body)
cautiously with care, slowly
caveat warning, detail to think about
cease to stop
cecum the first part of the large intestine
cell culture tissue sample or a study of the tissue
cellulitis skin infection
central nervous system (CNS) brain and spinal cord
cerebral hemorrhage stroke, blood clot in the brain
cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) the liquid around and in the brain and spinal cord
certain for sure
cervix the tip of the uterus; it opens into the vagina
cessation ending, stopping, pause
challenges problems
chemotherapy medication to treat cancer
chest cavity space where the heart, lungs, esophagus, trachea, bronchi, and thymus are located
chest film chest X-ray
cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol types of fat found in the blood; HDL is good cholesterol; LDL is bad cholesterol
choose pick
chronic lasting a long time, life-long, constant
chronic villi tissue
clavicle collarbone
clinical (related to) medical care
clinical trial research study
clinical trial a research study that tests new treatments on patients
close proximity near
coagulate clot, stop flowing
cognitive learning, thinking
cognizant aware (of)
coitus sex
collaborate (with) work together, work with
colon/colorectal the large intestine
colonoscope flexible tube with a lens at the end that’s used to look into the colon
colonoscopy an exam of the inside of the colon using a colonoscope
colostomy an opening, or the surgery to make an opening, between the large intestine (colon) and the outside of the body
colostomy pouch pouch that’s applied to the skin around a colostomy to collect bowel movements
combination mixture, blend, together with
commence begin, start
commitment promise
commonly most often
communicate write, tell, ask, talk, let you know
compensate, compensation pay, give money
competent able, fit
complete finish, do, fill out, take part in
completion end, finish
complications difficulties, problems
comply (with) do, follow
component part, section, phase
comprise form, include, make up
computed tomography (CT) x-ray machine that uses a computer to make pictures of the organs in the body
conceal(ed) hide (hidden)
concerned worried about
concerning about, on
conclude end, finish
conclusive final
concomitant given at the same time
condition how you feel, health problem
conduct(ing) do(ing)
confidential, confidentiality private, keep private
congenital present at birth, born with
congenital anomaly birth defect
congestive heart failure when the heart isn’t pumping hard enough
conjunctivitis pink eye
connective tissue type of tissue that connects, supports, touches, and surrounds various body parts
conscious awake and aware
consequence result
consequently so, because of this, as a result
consider think about
considerable quite a bit of, a lot of
considered thought to be, seen to be
consolidate combine, join, put together
constipation not being able to have a bowel movement
constitutes is, forms, makes up
constricted become narrow, narrow
construct make, build, design
consult ask
contact call, talk, ask
contains has
contingent upon if
continue go on, keep (on)
contraception birth control
contract(ing) [a disease] get(ing) [a disease]
contraindicated not recommended, can cause a bad reaction
contrast medium dye
contribute give, help
contusion bruise
convene meet
convenient works well
conversion change, shift
convulsion seizure, shaking
coronary (in/of/related to) the blood vessels that bring blood to the heart
coronary thrombosis heart attack
correlation link, connection
correspond similar to, be in agreement with
crucial very important
cumulative total number of (individual events, experiences, treatments)
currently now, at this moment
cutaneous (in/of/about/related to) the skin
debilitating weakening
decision choice
decrease lower, reduce
deem think, believe, consider
defecation bowel movement
deficiency not enough
deficit shortage
defined means, is the same as
definitely for sure
degeneration getting or gets worse
delete remove, take out, cut
delirium a state identified by confusion and restlessness
dementia a loss of brain function that happens when a large number of nerve cells in the brain die (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease)
demonstrate prove, show
depart leave
describe tell about
designate choose, name, select, appoint
desire want, wish
desirable wanted, needed, best, looked for
detached stand apart
detect find (out)
determine decide, find (out), learn (if)
detrimental harmful, bad
develop start to get, happen, grow
diagnose, diagnosis (find the) cause of your illness, finding, decision
diaphoresis sweating
diarrhea frequent, loose bowel movement
diet what you eat, your meals
dietitian use dietitian, not dietician
difficult very hard
difficulties problems, trouble
diffuse widespread, scattered
digit finger or toe
dilute add liquid, make weaker
diminish(ed) lower, make less (of), go down, decrease
discharge being released from the hospital
disclose share, tell, show
discoloration change in color
disconnect unhook, separate, divide
discontinue drop, stop
discover find (out), learn if
discrepancy conflict, difference, error, split
discretion good judgment, keep private
disorder sickness, illness, disease
disseminate give, issue, send, share, pass on, (spread out)
distal away from the center; distant
distended stretched out or swollen
diuretic medication or liquid that makes you urinate (pee) more
diverticulitis when your large intestine is swollen or infected
donate give
donor site area where tissue or local flap comes from
dorsal back of the body
dosage dose, how much medication you should take
double blind a study where the researchers and the participants don’t know what drug the participant is getting
dressing bandage, covering
drowsiness very sleepy
drug medication
drug interactions how one drug acts with another
duct tube that carries a bodily fluid
due to the fact because
duodenum the first part of the small intestine
dysfunction not working
dysmenorrhea painful period cramps
dyspepsia heartburn, indigestion
dysphagia trouble swallowing
dysplasia abnormal cells
dyspnea trouble breathing
echocardiography, echocardiogram pictures of the heart
edema swelling from buildup of bodily fluids
effect result, bring about
efficacy how well (a treatment) works
elect choose, pick
electrolytes salts in the blood that control the balance of fluids in the body
elevate high, higher, raise
eliminate get rid of, remove, cut, end, go to the bathroom
elucidate explain
embolism lump of blood, clot
embolist/embolus clot that blocks a blood vessel or artery
embolization a procedure that blocks the flow of blood to an area of the body to kill a tumor
employ use
employment work
enable allow, let
encounter meet, meeting
encourage urge
endeavor try
endometrium lining of the uterus
endotracheal tube a breathing tube inserted into the trachea (windpipe) during surgery to keep the breathing passage open
enema putting liquid into the rectum to cause a bowel movement
engage put into place, hold, keep, get bigger
enlarge get bigger
enroll be in, join
ensue follow(ing), occur after, happen next
ensure make sure
enumerate count
enuresis problems controlling urine, bladder control
epidemiologist scientist who studies diseases
epidermis skin
episode bout or attack
equilibrium balance
equitable fair
equivalent equal, the same as
eradicate get rid of
eruption (skin) rash or breakout
esophagus tube where food travels from the mouth into the stomach
especially mainly, mostly
establish set up, show
estimated likely, around, nearly
etiology cause
evaluate look at, study, measure, rate
evidence of proof of, signs of
evident clear
exacerbate make worse
examine look at, study
excessive too much ex (i.e., bleeding): if blood soaks through the bandage
excise remove by cutting, cut out
excretion bandage
exhale breathe out
exhibit show
expedite, expeditious speed up, make (something) go faster, make (something) easier, (fast, quick)
expend spend
expertise ability
expire, expiration end (date), run out
explicit plain, clear
extensive a lot (of), wide-spread, throughout the body
external outside (the body)
exude ooze
facilitate help, ease, make (something) easier
failed to did not
fatigue very tired
FDA approved approved by the government (FDA)
feasible can be done, possible, workable
febrile fever
femur thigh bone
fetus unborn baby
finalize complete, finish
flatulence pass gas
fluid level how much water your body has
fluoroscopy real-time video x-ray
focus put your mind to, pay attention, keep at (a task)
for a period of for
for example such as
forfeit give up, lose
formulate work out, form, make
forward send
fracture(d) break, (broken)
frequently often, a lot
fructose fruit sugar
function act, role, work
fundamental basic, important
furnish give, send
furthermore also
gallbladder organ that releases bile (made in the liver) when food enters the digestive tract
gastric (of/in/related to) the stomach
gastroenterologist (GI specialist) doctor who treats problems with digestion
gastroesophageal reflux (GERD=gastroesophageal reflux disease) heartburn
generalized wide-spread
generally as a rule, by and large, most often
generate produce, make, create
generic product sold without a brand name, like ibuprofen (Advil® is the brand name)
genes material passed from parent to child that determines the makeup of the body and brain
germ cells cells that make up the eggs in the ovary
gerontological age-related, (related to) aging
gestation pregnancy
gingiva gums
gland tissue that produces a material, such as saliva or a hormone
glucocorticoid something your body make that reduces swelling and fever
glucose sugar
good posture sitting straight and standing tall
gradually slowly, over time
gauge measure, get a better idea of
gynecologist doctor trained in women’s health
gynecology system in a female, includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and vagina
hard and soft palate roof of the mouth
has a requirement for needs
hazardous dangerous, not safe
health status how healthy you are
healthcare professional provider/doctor or nurse
heart failure heart isn’t pumping hard enough
hematocrit amount of red blood cells in the blood
hematoma bruise
hemorrhage heavy bleeding
hence so
hepatic (of/in/related to) the liver
herbal remedies herbs
herein here
heretofore until now
herewith below, here
heritable, hereditary genetic, traits that are passed down in families
herpes simplex type 1 cold sore
herpes simplex type 2 herpes
herpes zoster shingles
heterogeneous different, mixed
hirsutism unwanted hair growth
hives red, itchy bumps
homogeneous same or similar
hormone substance made by a gland in the body that regulates another part of the body
however but, yet, still
hydrotherapy using a warm bath or Jacuzzi to help sooth aching muscles
hypersensitivity very sensitive to
hypertension (hypotension) blood pressure that’s too high (blood pressure that’s too low)
hyperthyroidism (hypothyroidism) overactive thyroid, too much thyroid hormone (underactive thyroid, not enough thyroid hormone)
hypothesis idea being tested
hypoxia not enough oxygen in the blood
ibuprofen generic name for Advil®, Motrin®
identical same, exactly alike
identified found
identify find (out), name, show
idiopathic don’t know the cause
illustration picture, image
imbalance out of balance
immediately right away, now, at once
immerse cover in, dip in
immunotherapy treatment to make the immune system work better (boost immune system)
impact(ed) change(d), affect(ed)
impede slow, make it harder to
implant put into the body
implement carry out, put in place, start
impotence can’t have or keep an erection
improve get better, get well, do better
in a timely manner on time, promptly
in accordance with by, following, per, under
in addition also, too, and
in an effort to to
in lieu of instead (of)
in order that for, so
in order to to
in regard to about, concerning, on
in the event of if
in the near future shortly, soon
in vitro in a test tube or lab
inadvertent unplanned, careless
inadvisable unwise
inasmuch as since
incapacitate make it hard or impossible to do
incentive spirometer a small breathing device that helps open up the lungs after surgery and measures how deeply you’re breathing
inception start, beginning
incidence number of new cases, how many times it occurs
incision surgical cut
including along with, like, such as
incontinence not able to control bladder or bowel actions
incorrect wrong, not right
increase, increased raise, higher
incumbent upon must
independent free
indicate show, suggest, tell
indication sign, symptom
indigestion upset stomach
individual person
ineffectual doesn’t work, useless, of no use
infection illness, sickness, disease
infectious (disease) passed from one person to the next
infertility not able to get pregnant
inflammation swelling, painful swelling
influence affect
inform tell
informed consent deciding to get a certain treatment or be in a research study after thinking about the pros and cons (risks and benefits)
infusion putting a substance into the body through the blood
ingest eat or drink
ingredients what is in (a medication), what the (medication) is made of
inhale breathe in
inhibit stop
inhibitor medication that slows down or stops something from happening
initial first, at first, to start with
initiate begin, start
injection shot
innovation new idea, new way
Inpatient staying in the hospital
inquire ask
insomnia can’t get to sleep
institute start, set up
instrument tool
insufficient not enough, too little
intake what you eat or drink; what goes into your body
intended for meant for
intent, intention aim, goal, purpose
interaction how things work together (drug interaction: some drugs change the way other drugs work; some drugs don’t work well together)
interface meet, work with
interfere get in the way of
interior inside
intermittent off and on
internal inside (the body)
internist doctor of internal medicine
interrupt stop
intervention treatment
intimate close, private, personal
intramuscular in a muscle
intravenous in a vein
intravenous (line) a small, thin, flexible tube that puts pain medication directly into your vein
intubate putting a tube down the throat into the airway to allow breathing
invasive disease disease that (can or has) spread to other parts of the body
invasive procedure to go into the body through a cut, slit, or puncture
investigation study
investigator(s) researcher(s), people doing the research study
issue (to) give
it appears seems
it is essential must, need to
it is requested please, we request, I request
jaundice when the whites of the eyes and the skin look yellow
juvenile (condition) childhood (condition)
kidney 1 of 2 organs in the lower back that filter blood and make urine
laceration cut, tear, slit
lactation making milk for breastfeeding
lactose sugar found in milk
landmark very important, important event, turning point
laparoscope a small, telescope-like tool that’s put into the abdomen through an incision; it’s connected to a video camera and television screen to allow the inside of the stomach to be seen up close on the screen
laparoscopy procedure where instruments are inserted through small incisions made on the abdomen
large intestine the bowel between the small intestine and the anus; includes the cecum, colon, and rectum
larynx voice box
lateral side, on the side
laxative used to stop constipation (not being able to have a bowel movement)
laxative medication that softens a bowl movement
lesion abnormal area of tissue, such as a wound, sore, rash, or boil
lethargic sluggish, very sleepy
leukemia cancer of white blood cells
liaison discussion
libido sex drive, interest in sex
life-threatening life or death, dangerous
ligament elastic tissue that connects bone or cartilage
light therapy using bright-light boxes to reduce depression
limb arm or leg
lingual tongue
lipid profile (or lipid panel) lab test to measure the amount of fats in the blood
lipids fats in the blood
liver large organ that helps the body in many ways, including digestion, metabolism, and storage of substances
locality place
locally, localized in one area
locate find
location place
lungs the 2 main organs for breathing
lymph node small, bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body that make and store cells that fight infection
lymphedema swelling in the arm, hand, or breast on the side of surgery
lymphoma cancer of the lymph nodes (or tissues)
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) pictures of the inside of the body taken with a special machine
magnitude size
maintain keep, support
majority (of) most
malaise general feeling of being sick, feeling bad
malignant, malignancy harmful; cancerous; cancer that may spread to other parts of the body
mammogram x-ray of the breast
manifest clear, plain
manifestation sign
manner way
materialize appear
maximum greatest, largest, most
mean (statistical) average
mechanical ventilation when a machine is attached to a tube that sends air into the lungs during surgery
mediastinum the tissue and organs in the chest area between the lungs
medical clearance visit a medical examination done before surgery if a patient has heart problems, lung problems, or other health problems that can have an effect on safety during or after the surgery
medical condition disease, illness, medical problem, condition
melanoma cancerous black growth on the skin
menarche first (menstrual) period
menopause when a woman doesn’t get any more (menstrual) periods
menses, menstruation (menstrual) period
metabolism, metabolize how the body breaks down food into energy
metastasize spread
metastatic cancer that has spread
methodology method
miliaria prickly heat
minimal (minimum) least, smallest, slight (at least)
minimally invasive surgery a surgery that’s done with small incisions
minimize decrease, lower, reduce
mobile (mobility) able (ability) to move around
mobility movement, ability to move
moderate limit, control
moderately not too much
modification change
modify change, revise, adjust
monitor check (on), keep track (of), watch
morbidity disease rate, illness rate
mortality death rate, death, dying
muscle breakdown muscle problems
musculoskeletal muscles and bones
mutation genetic defect
myocardial infarction (MI) heart attack
myopia nearsighted(ness), when it’s hard to see things that are far away
narcotic strong, habit-forming medication that stops pain (ie, opioids)
nasal cannula a thin tube that sits under the nose and gives oxygen
nasal cavity empty space in the nose
nasal congestion stuffy nose
nasogastric tube tube that goes from the nose to the stomach
nausea (nauseous) upset stomach, feeling like throwing up, feel like vomiting
navel belly button
nebulous not clear
necessary needed
negative no, harmful
neglect lack of care, don’t care for
negligible small
nephropathy kidney disease
nerve string-like tissue that carries messages to and away from the brain and spinal cord
neuralgia nerve pain
neuron nerve cell
neutropenia low white blood cell count
neutrophil white blood cell
nocturia going to the bathroom a lot a night
nodule lump
noncancerous not cancer
noncompliant not following a treatment plan
noninvasive without using surgery, needles, or cutting the skin
nonprescription over the counter, you can buy off the shelf, you can buy without a prescription
nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) includes ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®)
normal common, standard, routine, usual
normal range where it should be, common amount
notice(d) see (saw)
notify to tell, let know
notwithstanding in spite of, still
numerate count
numerous many
nutrient something in food that’s good for you
objective aim, goal
obligate require, bind, means that (you) have to
obligation need, duty
observe see, watch
obstruct block or close
obtain get, take
obvious plain, clear
occasionally sometimes
occlude (occlusion) block (blockage)
occupation(al) job, work
occur happen
occurrence event, chance, case
oncologist doctor who treats cancer
oncology study or treatment of cancer
onset start
opened a dialogue could talk with
operate run, use, work
opportunity chance
optimum, optimal best, greatest, most
option choice, way
oral by mouth
orthopedic (of/about/related to) the bones
osteoporosis brittle bone disease, having bones that can break easily
otherwise if not
otolaryngologist ear, nose, and throat doctor
outcomes results (long-term) changes
outpatient not staying in the hospital
ovary releases an egg every month during a women’s reproductive years and also makes most of the female hormones, including estrogen and progesterone
overreach go too far, strain
palatable likable, pleasing
palliative make feel better but not cure, ease symptoms
pallor paleness
palpate feel
palpitation fast heartbeat
pancreas organ that makes the hormones (insulin and glucagon) that control blood sugar and enzymes to help break down food
parameter limit, boundary
paresthesia tingling, prickling, or burning feeling on the skin that can’t be explained or doesn’t seem to have any cause
participant person who takes part
participate (ing, ion) join, take part
patella knee cap
pathogen(esis) cause of a disease
patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pump lets you give yourself pain medication by pushing a button to deliver a safe dose of medication
parturition labor and delivery, childbirth
pelvis the part of the body that’s surrounded on 3 sides by the hip bones and spine
penetrate enter, pierce
percutaneous biopsy a biopsy that’s done through the skin
perforation hole
perform do
perineum the space between the scrotum and anus in men, and between the vagina and anus in women
periodically from time to time
perioral around the mouth
peripheral on the edge, not central
permit(ted) allow(ed), let
persist last, keep going, doesn’t stop
persistent lasting
personnel staff, people
persuade convince
pertaining to about, of, on
peruse read, study, glance
pervasive widespread, all around
phantom sensations feeling like a part of the body is still there after it has been removed
pharmaceutical medication
pharmacotherapy using medication to treat a disease or condition
pharyngitis sore throat
physical reaction what happens in your body, your body will react
physician doctor
physiological having to do with the body
pigmentation color
place put, rest, lay
placebo a pill with no medication, a “sugar” pill
placenta part of the mother’s womb that supplies oxygen and nutrition to her unborn baby
plaque fatty deposit in an artery
plasma the fluid part of blood
plasma glucose blood sugar
platelets cells that are made in bone marrow to control bleeding
pleura a thin, fluid-filled covering that protects the lungs
portal vein carries blood from the stomach and intestines to the liver
portion part, section
positron emission tomography (PET) PET scan or imaging test; test done to look at organs in the body
possess have, own
possible may, likely, can be done
posterior back
postoperative (post-op) after surgery
poultry chicken, turkey, pork
preadolescent preteen
preclinical isn’t causing symptoms yet, no signs yet
preclude prevent, rule out
predisposed, predisposition likely to
preoperative (pre-op) before surgery
premenstrual before your period
prenatal before birth
present give, show, offer
presently right now
preserve keep
pre-surgical testing testing that’s done before your surgery by a nurse practitioner
prevalence, prevalent how often it happens, common, happens often
prevent stop, put a stop to, to keep from happening
previous, previously before, earlier
primarily above all, mainly, mostly
principal investigator head researcher, scientist in charge of a research study
prior (to) earlier, before
prioritize rank, order, put in order of importance
proactive taking action on your own
procedure something that’s done, a process, something that’s done to treat your problem
proceed do, go ahead, start, try
procure, procurement buy, get
proficiency, proficient skill, skilled
prognosis outlook
progress (verb), progressive worsen, get(s) worse
prohibit, prohibitive, prohibited from prevent, restrict(ive), strict, may not, don’t allow
prolonged lasts a long time, too long
promote help, support
promulgate make, issue, publish
prone lying face down, lying on the stomach
proper correct, right
prophylaxis something that prevents disease or infection
pros and cons pluses and minuses, reasons for and against
prostate gland that makes semen (milky white substance in which sperm live)
prosthesis replacement for a body part
prosthesis something that replaces a part of the body that is removed
protocol plan of study, rule, process
provide give (us), offer, say
provided that if
provider doctor, nurse, person who gives healthcare
provides guidance for guides
proximal close, closer to the center of the body
psychopathology mental illness
psychosocial mental and social
psychotropic mind-altering
pulmonary (in/or/about/related to) the lungs
pulmonary embolism blood clot in the lung
purchase buy
pursuant to by, following, under
qualified good, suited, able
questionnaire survey, series of questions
radiation therapy the treatment of cancer by high-energy x-rays; it’s aimed at the area of the body where the cancer is or was
radiologist doctor who specializes in reading x-rays
radiology x-ray department
ramifications outcomes, problems, results
random(ly) by chance
randomized/randomization assigned to a group by chance, like flipping a coin (if there are 2 groups); like drawing names out of a hat (if there are more than 2 groups)
range area, between (x) and (y), from low(est) to high(est)
reaction result, end result, response
receive get
recognize know, accept
recommend suggest
recreational drug street drug
rectum a holding area for feces
recuperate get better, get well, recover, restore
recur return, come back, happen again
red blood cell a cell in blood that carries oxygen
red blood cell count the number of red blood cells in the blood
reduce lower
referral send to see another doctor
reflect say, show
reflux heartburn
refractory not responding to treatment; hard to treat
refrain stop, stay away from
regarding about, of, on
regardless no matter
regimen treatment plan
regulate affect, control
regulations rules
rehabilitate recover, restore
relapse slip, backslide, return of a disease
related to has to do with, has something to do with
relative to about, on
relevant (to) about, tied in with, related to
reliable, reliably can count on, can depend on
relieve lessen, help, ease, take the edge off
relocate move
remain stay, wait
remainder rest, what is left over
remaining other, left, left over
remission when signs of cancer or other disease are decreased or gone
remove take out
remuneration pay, payment
renal (in/of/about/related to) the kidneys
render make, give
repeatedly, repeated often, over and over
repetitive happens over and over, again and again
replace take the place off
replicable can be done again
represents is
request, requested ask, asked for
require(d), requirement must do or have, need(ed)
researchers people doing the study
resect cut out, take out through surgery, remove
reside live
residence house, home
resources names of (organizations) that can help you, information that can help you
respiration breathing
respond take action
respond take action
restart start again
restlessness can’t sit still
restrictions limits
retain keep
retinol vitamin A
retrospective study a study looking at things that have already happened
reveal show, tell
review check, go over
revise change
revision change, new
routinely often, commonly
rupture break open, burst
safety profile safety record
saline solution sterile salt water
sarcoma type of cancer
satisfactory okay, fine, good
saturate wet, soak
sclerosis when certain tissues of the body get hard and thick
scored tablet tablet with a line that make it easy to cut in half
screening checking for disease when there are no symptoms
scrotum the outside sac containing the testicles
seasonal during certain seasons of the year
sedative a medication to make you feel calm or less anxious
sedentary inactive, not active
segment part, portion
seldom rarely, not very often
selection choice
semen the milky white substance where sperm live; made by the prostate
sensation feeling
sepsis a very serious infection
sequentially in a row, in order, by number
set forth in in
several some, many
severe serious, bad
severity how bad
sexual activity having sex
shall will
side effect something you feel that was caused by a medication you took
significant a lot of
significantly enough to make a difference
similar (to) like, alike
similarity likeness
sinusitis sinus infection
situated placed, sitting (or delete)
situation in your place, in your state
skin graft taking a piece of skin (usually from the buttock or thigh) to cover the donor site (the block of tissue that’s taken from one part of the body and attached to another)
small intestine the bowel between the stomach and the large intestine made up of the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum
solely only
solicit ask for, request
somnolence sleepiness
specify name
specimen sample
spinal block a type of anesthesia that numbs the lower half of the body
spinal cavity space inside the spinal column where the spinal cord is found
spinal cord cord of nerves that run down the spine and help guide messages to and from the brain
spirometer a device that measures how much air you’re breathing in and out
spleen a large organ that makes blood cells that help the body fight infection
state-of-the-art latest
status rank, state, place
stimulate excite, trigger
strategy, strategize (make a) plan
streptococcal strep
subcutaneous under the skin
sublingual under the tongue, medication taken by dissolving under your tongue
submit give, send
subsequent(ly) after, later, next, then
substantial big, large, much
sucrose sugar
sufficient enough
suggest(s) show(s) there might be
supine lying on your back
suppress hold back
sustain keep going
sustenance support, food
sutures stitches
symptomatic having symptoms
symptoms signs, warning signs
syncope blackout, loss of consciousness, fainting
syndrome disease, a pattern of things that can happen
systemic whole body
tablets pills
tachycardia very fast heart beat
tailored made just for you
tap to use a needle to take out fluid from the body
tear a ligament (torn ligament) sprain
tearing weepy, weeping, watering
technicality detail
temporary for a limited time, for a short time, short term
terminal not curable, causes death, going to die
terminate end, stop, put an end to
termination stop, end
testicle male sex glands that make sperm
therapeutic modality treatment
therapy treatment
therefore so, as a result
therein there
thereof its, their
thoracic chest
thrombosis blood clots in the blood vessels
thyroid gland gland in the neck that makes hormones that control metabolism
tibia shin bone
timely promptly, on time
titration slow increase in amount of drug that’s given
tolerance decrease in response to a specific dosage of medication; over time, higher doses of the medication are needed to get desired effect
topical (application) surface, put on the skin
torn ligament sprain
torso trunk; main part of the body not including head, arms, or legs
toxic, toxin poisonous, poison
toxicity any harmful effect of a medication or poison
trachea windpipe
transdermal through the skin
transmit(ted) send (sent), spread to, pass on
transpire happen
trauma injury, wound
trauma, traumatic shock, distress, ordeal, pain
treatable can be treated
tremor shaking
triad group of 3
ultimate final, end, last
unable can’t
uncommon rare
unconscious not awake and not aware
uncontrollable can’t be controlled
under the provisions of under
undergo have
understand learn, see
unequivocal clear, certain
unfounded wrong
unique special
unnecessary not needed
ureter tube connected to the kidney that carries urine out of the kidney and into the bladder
urethra tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body
urinalysis urine test
urinary tract all the structures in the body that make and pass urine, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra
urinate to pee
urologist doctor who specializes in the urinary tract and male reproductive system
uterus where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant (also called womb)
utilize use
validate approve, confirm
variable factor, changes over time
varicella chickenpox
variety many different kinds
vas deferens tube that carries sperm out of the testicle
vector an insect or other animal that carries disease
vein the blood vessel that carries blood back to the heart from the rest of the body
vena cava the vein that carries blood to the heart
vertebrae the bones in the spine (back)
vertigo dizziness
viable practical, workable, possible
visible can be seen
visiting nurse (home nurse) a nurse who travels to patients’ homes
visualize picture, see, imagine
vitals, vital signs heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and temperature
voluntary up to you
warrant call for, permit
wellness good health, feeling good
whereas because, since
white blood cell (WBC) one of many types of infection-fighting cells in the blood and body tissues
with reference to about
with the exception of except for
withdraw (from) drop, leave, take back, take out
witnessed saw
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