WikiProjectMed:Manual of Style/Medicine-related articles

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This is the style guide for editing medical articles. The general rules from the Wikipedia:Manual of Style also apply when writing medical articles.

Article titles

The article title should be the scientific or recognised medical name that is most commonly used in recent, high-quality, English-language medical sources, rather than a lay term (unscientific or slang name)[1] or an historical eponym that has been superseded.[2] The alternative names may be specified in the lead.[3] Create redirects to the article to help those searching with alternative names. For example, heart attack redirects to myocardial infarction. Please also add alternative names to the Wikidata entry (just fill in the blank labeled "Also known as" at the top of the Wikidata page about the subject). For more information please see the Trials Data Model.

The article title is subject to the same sourcing standards as the article content. Where there is a dispute over a name, editors should cite recognised authorities and organisations rather than conduct original research.[4]

Where there are lexical differences between the varieties of English, an international standard may be helpful, though Wikipedia generally discourages changing existing article usage. Some terminology is in flux and recently proposed names may not yet be widespread in adoption. Some examples of international standards include:

Titles requiring disambiguation

When one single term is used to describe two different topics, article titles must be disambiguated to resolve naming conflicts. To accomplish this, disambiguating words are used in parentheses after the article titles. When disambiguating a medicine- or anatomy-related article from an article about a totally different topic, the appropriate disambiguating words are "medicine" or "anatomy", respectively.

For example, "nail" may refer to several items, including a fingernail or a pin-shaped metal object used in construction. In this case, the appropriate article titles are Nail (anatomy) for the fingernail, and Nail (fastener) for the piece of hardware. Because neither of these articles can be considered a primary topic for the term, Nail is a disambiguation page that lists both articles.

When the medical or anatomical context is the primary use of the term, the article should not use a disambiguation word. For instance, the primary and most common use of the word "foot" is for the body part at the end of the leg. Thus, Foot is the appropriate title of the article; while Foot (length) is an article about the unit of measurement called foot. Use of "anatomy" is not appropriate.

In cases when a medical- or anatomy-related term is a secondary use for a more common usage, only the medical (or anatomical) article requires a disambiguation. Most commonly, "percussion" is used to describe an instrument that makes sound when struck, so Percussion links directly to the article about the instrument; the medical-usage of the term is located at Percussion (medicine).

When there are two or more distinct uses for the same term within medicine or anatomy, using the disambiguation word "medicine" or "anatomy" will not be sufficient for distinction between topics. In this situation, the general medical specialty (for medicine) or specific body part (for anatomy) should be used. For example, "foramen ovale" may refer to either the structure of the skull or the heart. Therefore, the appropriate article names are Foramen ovale (skull) and Foramen ovale (heart), respectively. Since neither anatomical structure is a primary topic for the term, Foramen ovale is a disambiguation page.

Common pitfalls

Writing for the wrong audience

Wikipedia is written for the general reader. It is an encyclopedia, not a comprehensive medical or pharmaceutical resource, nor a first-aid (how-to) manual. Although healthcare professionals and patients may find much of interest, these two groups do not by themselves represent the target audience.

Signs of writing or editing for (other) healthcare professionals
  • You give technical advice, particularly for the steps in a thorough diagnostic workup.
  • You use jargon when there are suitable plain English words (for example, consider using "kidney" rather than "renal").
  • You use the word "patients" or "cases" when describing those who have a medical condition (see below).
  • You overstate controllable risks in the hope that your patients will be more compliant with your directions.
  • You make sure that readers know that your process or product is patented.
  • You list every unusual manifestation ever reported, because it might help someone correctly diagnose an atypical case.
  • You use a writing style appropriate only for graduate-level courses, because that's what you see in peer-reviewed journal articles and professional reference works.
Signs of writing or editing for (other) patients or their caregivers
  • You use the word "you" when describing those who have a medical condition.
  • You are tempted to lift text from a patient information leaflet or website.
  • You mention treatments or practices that you've read about in a newspaper or from personal experience.
  • You add "helpful" external links, such as forums, self-help groups and local charities.
  • You emphasize or de-emphasize verifiable facts so that readers will make the "right" choice in the real world.
  • You play down information that might discourage patients (for example, that a disease is typically fatal), or you give undue attention to individual success stories.

Sometimes you add information that is specific to one country: for example, drug-licensing and health-service provisions. In contrast, you should maintain an international perspective: for example, by seeking out English-language sources from non-English-speaking countries.

A guide for journalists on how to translate the writings of researchers into something understandable to the general public is available on the University of Kansas website here (PDF).


Avoid lists of trivia by working these tidbits of information into the main body text. Sections on history or on popular culture may help to structure such factoids.

Articles with sections on research should be sourced to reviews and should describe research directions, rather than discussing specific studies and their results. Sections with simply a "Research" header have a risk of developing into miscellaneous and unorganized dumps of random studies, with over-emphasis on the names of the people who conducted the studies, their research institutions etc. Wikipedia is not a place to gather random studies nor is it a place to write a review from scratch, as this is original research. Articles about health and medicine should generally not cite primary sources, more details about which can be found at WP:MEDRS. Readers generally want to understand research directions in any case. See Alzheimer's disease § Research directions for an example.

Careful language

Medical usage of common terms often differs from that of the general public. This is particularly common with medical terms that are used in legal contexts, with related but significantly different meanings. (See the Manual of Style.) In addition, note that:

  • Approved and indicated mean different things, and should not be used interchangeably. Indications refer to common medical uses for a drug. Approval is a regulatory issue, which varies from country to country. Off-label refers to the use of a drug for a purpose for which it is not approved.
  • Sometimes positive and negative medical test results can have, respectively, negative and positive implications for the person being tested. For example, a negative breast cancer-screening test is very positive for the person being screened.
  • The phrase psychologically addictive has so many conflicting definitions that it is essentially meaningless. Replace the term with something specific. If you want to convey that a drug does not cause tolerance, or that its withdrawal syndrome is not life-threatening, then state that.
  • The term drug abuse is vague and carries negative connotations. In a medical context, it generally refers to recreational use that carries serious risk of physical harm or addiction. However, others use it to refer to any illegal drug use. The best accepted term for non-medical use is "recreational use".
  • The term significant can refer to either statistical significance or clinical significance. Statistical significance means that the results are unlikely to be due to chance. Clinical significance means that the results are large enough to be noticed by the patient and will make a difference in the effect of the disease or condition on the patient. For example, a reduction of one ounce of body weight may be statistically significant in a large population, but has no clinical significance for the individual. Linking to statistical significance may be useful.
  • Avoid using the potentially ambiguous term doctor to refer specifically to physicians or surgeons. Avoid using doctor or physician in ways that incorrectly exclude other licensed healthcare professionals, such as nurses, physician assistants, and midwives.
  • Allopathy is potentially confusing to readers in different cultures, as it could refer to traditional enantiopathic preparations or to mainstream modern medicine, depending on context. Avoid using allopathic to describe modern Western medicine; instead use conventional medicine or mainstream medicine. Not all mainstream medicine is actually evidence-based medicine, and not all alternative medicine is traditional medicine. See Wikipedia:Alternative medicine for help with terminology.
  • Do not confuse patient-group prevalence figures with those for the whole population that have a certain condition. For example: "One third of XYZ patients" is not always the same as "One third of people with XYZ", since many people with XYZ may not be seeking medical care.
  • Correctly identify what your source discusses, without generalizing or interpreting it to related ideas. If the source talks about the effect of a single chemical purified from a plant (e.g., aspirin from white willow bark), do not misrepresent the work as referring to the plant from which it was derived. Similarly, if the source talks about effects in cultured cells or non-human animals, do not misrepresent the work as demonstrating anything about humans.
  • Choose appropriate words when describing medical conditions and their effects on people. The words disease and disorder are not always appropriate. Independently observed medical signs are not self-reported symptoms. Avoid saying that people "suffer" from or are "victims" of a chronic illness or symptom, which may imply helplessness: identifiers like survivor, affected person or individual with are alternate wordings. Many patient groups, particularly those that have been stigmatised, prefer person-first terminology—arguing, for example, that seizures are epileptic, people are not. An example of person-first terminology would be people with epilepsy instead of epileptics. In contrast, not all medical conditions are viewed as being entirely disadvantageous by those who have them. Some groups view their condition as part of their identity (for example, some deaf and some autistic people) and reject this terminology. For more advice, see the APA style guideline on using bias-free language about disability.

Copyright violations

Medicine-related articles must adhere strictly to Wikipedia's copyright policies. Whether something is copyrighted is not always apparent. For example, the official descriptions of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are copyrighted, as are most questionnaires used for medical screening purposes.

Writing style

The overall writing style of an article should reflect Wikipedia's nature as an encyclopedia.


The lead of an article should be written as simply as possible without introducing errors or ambiguity. Many readers of the English Wikipedia have English as a second language (non-native language).[6] Language can often be simplified by using shorter sentences, having one idea per sentence, and using common rather than technical terms.

When writing the lead, editors should ensure that they write a comprehensive summary of all of the main points of the article. One way to achieve this is to follow the order of the content in the body of the article, although this is not required. Avoid cluttering the very beginning of the article with pronunciations or unusual alternative names; infoboxes are useful for storing this data. Most readers access Wikipedia on mobile devices and want swift access to the subject matter without undue scrolling.

It is sometimes useful to include citations in the lead, but they are not obligatory. Two reasons for using them are:

General tone

  • Do not address the reader directly. Ensure that your writing does not appear to offer medical advice. However, a disclaimer to this effect is never required[7] since the general disclaimer can be accessed from any page on Wikipedia. Statements using the word should frequently provide inappropriate advice (e.g., "People with this symptom should seek medical care") instead of plain statements of facts.
  • Rely on wikilinks to help articles stay focused and to avoid placing undue weight on peripheral details. For example, when writing about a blood test, don't include the normal venipuncture procedures or the type of Vacutainer generally used. Instead, link to the normal procedures but provide any important and unusual information in the article you are working on.

Wikipedia is not a medical primary resource

  • Wikipedia articles are not textbooks.
    • Most mnemonics and rules of thumb are not informative of the subject matter relevant to an encyclopedia. They are a form of memorable poetry, to aid medical students in recalling voluminous facts and procedures, and to pass examinations. They also risk non-neutrality when they winsomely express a point-of-view, reduce a complex subject to a simplified rote, or suggest an unverifiable authority. Just give the plain information, without the artificial and distracting adornment of memory aids.
  • Wikipedia is not a procedural manual. Don't give "how-to" instructions. For example, when writing about a specific surgery, don't list all the equipment that will be needed or give advice on how to hold, store, use or clean it. Instead describe the guidelines and procedures in a reader-neutral manner, perhaps by using passive voice.
  • Wikipedia is not a collection of case studies, and excessive examples should be avoided.

Citing sources

Sources should be used to make verifiable statements, but they should not be discussed by themselves in an article.

  • Do not provide a detailed analysis of an individual study unless the analysis itself is taken from a published reliable source. Wikipedia should concisely state facts about a subject. It should not discuss the underlying literature at any length. Generally speaking, the facts will be found in the conclusions or results section of a study, not in the detailed methodology. Articles that rely on secondary sources are less likely to fall into the trap of discussing the size of a single study, its methodology, its biases, and so forth. Thus, "washing hands after defecating reduces the incidence of diarrhea in the wilderness", not "An uncontrolled survey involving 132 experienced long-distance backpackers on the Appalachian trail in 1997 concluded that washing hands after defecating reduces the incidence of diarrhea in the wilderness."
  • Do not hype a study by listing the names, credentials, institutions, or other "qualifications" of their authors. The text of the article should not needlessly duplicate the names, dates, titles, and other information about the source that you list in the citation. Always omit professional titles and academic degrees: use "Smith" or "Jones" rather than "Dr Smith" or "Prof Jones". It is necessary to specifically include such information only when a specific individual is being cited as an example of a person holding a minority view: You might write, "The AIDS Denialist Society says that HIV is entirely harmless", but just use a plain statement for the widely accepted fact, "HIV causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome."
  • Do not publish your own views about studies.
  • Addsources to the lead is a reasonable practice as it facilitates translation.

Technical terminology

When faced with an advanced technical word or medical jargon, consider whether the reader needs to know it to understand this article you are writing. Is it used repeatedly later? Is it a term a doctor will have to use with their patient when talking about this subject, or just something only doctors would say or write among themselves? When mentioning technical terms for the first time, also provide a short plain-English explanation if possible. If the concept is too elaborate for this, wikilink to other articles. If the technical word is necessary, but not used again in the article, it may be appropriate to use plain English instead and place the technical term within parentheses.

For terms related to anatomical position, you can link to Anatomical terms of location, e.g. [[Anatomical terms of location|lateral]].

Use the nonproprietary name when referring to a drug in medical articles. Wikilinked instances of the name may be followed by the proprietary name in parentheses: "trastuzumab (Herceptin)".


Infoboxes should be used where appropriate. These include

Full instructions are available on the page for each infobox. A suitable picture for the infobox is encouraged. For drugs, the 2D structure in SVG format is preferred, but PNG is acceptable. The easiest way to populate the drugbox and protein templates is to use Diberri's template-filling web site. Search DrugBank for the drug and enter the ID[8] in this page, or search HUGO for the protein and enter the ID[9] in this page.

Content sections

The following lists of suggested sections are intended to help structure a new article or when an existing article requires a substantial rewrite. Changing an established article simply to fit these guidelines might not be welcomed by other editors. The given order of sections is also encouraged but may be varied, particularly if that helps your article progressively develop concepts and avoid repetition. Do not discourage potential readers by placing a highly technical section near the start of your article.

An appropriate list of appendices follows at the end of articles for citations and other resources.

Diseases, disorders, or syndromes

Clinical articles can achieve a level of consistency by limiting their top-level headers to those specified below. However, the spectrum of medical conditions is huge, including infectious and genetic diseases, chronic and acute illness, the life-threatening and the inconvenient. Some sections will necessarily be absent or may be better merged, especially if the article is not (yet) fully comprehensive.

A disease that is now only of historical significance may benefit from having its History section moved towards the top. Establishing the forms of the disease (Classification) can be an important first section. However, if such classification depends heavily on understanding the cause, pathogenesis or symptoms, then that section may be better moved to later in the article. If a disease is incurable, then the Prognosis section can be moved up, and a section called Management is more appropriate than Treatment.

The following list of suggested headings contains wikilinks; the actual headings should not.

  • Signs and symptoms (subsection Complications)
  • Causes: Includes risk factors, triggers, genetics, virology (e.g., structure/morphology and replication), spread.
  • Mechanism: For information about pathogenesis and pathophysiology.
  • Diagnosis: Includes characteristic biopsy findings and differential diagnosis.
  • Prevention or Screening (If the section only discusses secondary prevention, it should follow the treatment section.)
  • Treatment (or Management, especially for chronic conditions): This might include any type of currently used treatment, such as diet, exercise, medication, palliative care, physical therapy, psychotherapy, self care, surgery, watchful waiting, and many other possibilities. Consider discussing treatments in a plausible order in which they might be tried, or discussing the most common treatments first. Avoid experimental/speculative treatments and preventive measures (e.g., prophylactic vaccines or infection-avoidance techniques). Wikipedia articles should not be written in a "how-to" style, but this does not prevent adding official guidelines of treatments or managements if these can be presented in an objective manner and with medically reliable sources.
  • Outcomes
  • Epidemiology: factors such as incidence, prevalence, age distribution, and sex ratio.
  • History: Early discoveries, historical figures, and outdated treatments (not patient history)
  • Society and culture: This might include social perceptions, cultural history, stigma, economics, religious aspects, awareness, legal issues, and notable cases.
  • Research directions: Include only if addressed by significant sources. See Trivia, and avoid useless statements like "More research is needed". Wikipedia is not a directory of clinical trials or researchers.
  • Special populations, such as Geriatrics or Pregnancy or Children
  • Other animals

Drugs, treatments, and devices

The lead should highlight the name of the treatment product as per normal guidelines.

In the case of drugs, this would include the International Nonproprietary Name, while the BAN or USAN variant may also be mentioned with title words in bold. The initial brand name(s) and manufacturer follows, in parentheses. Indicate the drug class and family and the main indications. The External links section is a magnet for online pharmacy spam and should be avoided if possible.

Try to avoid cloning drug formularies such as the BNF and online resources like RxList and Extract the pertinent information rather than just dumping low-level facts in a big list, which should be avoided. For example, a long list of side effects is largely useless without some idea of which are common or serious. It can be illuminating to compare the drug with others in its class, or with older and newer drugs. Do not include dose, titration or pricing information except when they are extensively discussed by secondary sources, necessary for the discussion in the article, or when listing equivalent doses between different pharmaceuticals. Wikipedia is not an instruction manual or textbook and should not include instructions, advice (legal, medical or otherwise) or "how-to"s.