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A to Z of health writing

The A to Z of health writing covers style, spelling and grammar conventions for all content published on HSE.ie.

ageing

Not 'aging'.

AIDS

Not 'acquired immune deficiency syndrome'.

alcohol misuse

Not 'alcohol abuse'.

alternative

Use 'different' or 'other'.

An exception is 'complementary and alternative medicines'.

Alzheimer’s disease

Not 'alzheimers disease'. See 'conditions'.

and/or

Avoid using and/or. Use ‘or’, for example 'ask the nurse or midwife to explain what everything is for'.

anonymised, anonymisation

Try not to use these words. Try to explain what anonymisation means and talk about information that has personal details removed.
For example 'When we share your information with another organisation, we take out all personal details, such as your name and address.'

antenatal

One word, no hyphen.

anus

See 'bottom'.

apply

If referring to a medicine, use 'use', 'put on' or 'rub in'.

back passage

Do not use 'back passage'. See 'bottom'.

bacteria

Plural. A 'bacterium' is one of them but use ‘bacteria’ generally. Write 'the bacteria are' not 'the bacteria is'. If you give the full Latin name, capitalise the first word. For example, 'Staphylococcus aureus', but the shortened 'staphylococcus' is lower case. Do not use italics.

brackets

Information in brackets should only be used for definitions, abbreviations, PDF document details and common explanations. An example used for a common explanation is 'hyperarousal' (feeling 'on edge').

breastfeeding

One word, no hyphen.

breast milk

Two words.

body fluids

Not 'bodily' fluids.

bottle-feeding

Hyphenated.

bottom

Not 'back passage', 'anus', 'rectum' or 'bum'. You can add 'anus' in brackets after 'bottom' or you can use 'anus' on its own when you need to be more precise, for example when talking about 'anal cancer'.

bowel movement

See 'poo'.

bum

See 'bottom'.

caesarean

Lower case

carer

An unpaid family member, partner or friend who helps a disabled, ill or older person with the activities of daily living. Do not use it to describe someone who works in a caring job or profession. For that use 'careworker' or their professional title, for example 'nurse'.

commas

See guidance on commas.

conditions

Lower case except where they start with a name. For example, 'cancer of the colon', 'multiple sclerosis', but 'Parkinson's disease', 'Alzheimer's disease'.

When stating the name of a condition or treatment, lead with a plain English description and follow up with terms a health professional might use. For example, 'This is a screening test. It is also known as a smear test.'

connected to

Use 'connected to' for a machine and use common sense for other examples, for example 'attached' or 'inserted' depending on the context. Never use 'hooked-up'.

counsellor 

Not 'counselor'.

CT scan

'CT scan' (computerised tomography scan), then use ‘CT scan’ for subsequent mentions. Also known as 'CAT scan' (computerised axial tomography). We use 'CT scan'.

degrees

See the temperature section in the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

dependent or dependant

'Dependent' is an adjective describing something that depends on something. 'Dependant' is a noun meaning a person who depends on another for support. Your dependants are dependent on you.

diabetes

Lower case.

diagnostic

As an adjective, serving to identify a particular disease. As a noun, the practice of medical diagnosis or a technique used in diagnosis.

diarrhoea

Not 'diarrhea'.

dietitian

Not 'dietician'.

diuretics

Do not call them 'water tablets'. Explain that diuretics are 'tablets that make you pee more'.

doctor

Use 'GP', not 'doctor', for a general practitioner. Keep 'doctor' for hospital doctors or consultants, or use their job title with an explanation if necessary, for example ‘a child health doctor (paediatrician)’.

drugs

Use 'medicines'. Only use 'drugs' for illegal drugs. See 'medicines'.

drug misuse

Not 'drug abuse'.

drug users

The preferred term is 'people who use drugs'.

dosage

See the dosage section in the Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

eardrop, eardrum, earlobe, earwax

All of them one word.

emergency department 

Use 'emergency department' (ED) not 'A&E'. It can be referred to as 'the ED' if the full term is already mentioned on the same page.

etc

Avoid. Try using ‘for example’ or ‘such as’ or ‘like’ or ‘including’ instead.

equivalent

Use ‘same as’ or 'equal to'.

excessive

Use 'too much'.

faeces

See 'poo'.

Fahrenheit

Use Celsius, not Fahrenheit. See Temperature section in Numbers, measurements, dates and time page.

fart, farting or breaking wind

Use 'farts' instead of 'wind' or 'gas' and 'farting' instead of 'flatulence'. But use best judgement on what makes the most sense in context. See 'flatulence.

fever

Use 'high temperature' instead of 'fever' but use 'fever' when writing specifically about fever or different types of fever, such as scarlet fever.

fractions

See the guidance on fractions and percentages in the 'Numbers, measurements, dates and time' page.

freephone

Not 'free phone'.

flatulence

Use 'farting' instead of 'flatulence'. Only use 'flatulence' when needed for clinical content about 'flatulence'. See 'farting'. 

flu

Not 'influenza' or 'the flu'. If you do have symptoms, they will be 'flu-like symptoms', not 'like flu symptoms'.

gardaí

Lower case and fada. Rules for capitalisation apply if a name is included.

gas

See 'fart'.

haemorrhage

Use 'a very heavy bleed' instead of 'haemorrhage'.

If you need to use the word "haemorrhage", for example, in the name of a condition like a subarachnoid haemorrhage, explain what it is.

healthcare

One word.

health professionals, healthcare professionals

People who work in identifying, preventing or treating illness or disability. Avoid where possible and instead use a term that describes what the people do, for example 'GPs' or 'nurses'.

the HSE

Refer to the Health Service Executive as ‘the HSE’. For example ‘you can apply for a job at the HSE’.

HSE.ie

This is the name of the HSE website. For example ‘Find out how to get a medical card on HSE.ie’.

HSELive

Not HSE Live.

immunisation

Only use 'immunisation' for 'HSE immunisation programme' or 'National Immunisation Office'.

Use 'vaccination' otherwise.

imperial measurements

See the guidance on metric and imperial measurements in the 'Numbers, measurements, dates and time' page.

incurable

Avoid. Use 'cannot be cured'.

inpatient

One word.

interaction

For medicines, use ‘it does not mix with’.

life-threatening

Hyphenated.

 

medication

Use 'medicine'.

medicines

Generally, use the generic (scientific name) first followed by the brand name with an initial cap and in brackets, for example, atorvastatin (Lipitor).

Some medicines are better-known by their brand names than their generic names. In that case, use the generic name in brackets – for example, Viagra (sildenafil). Once medicines have lost their patent protection, there may be rival branded generics that have a brand name and ordinary generics that use just the generic name. Some might have several brand names. For example, the asthma drug salbutamol has Airomir, Asmasal and Ventolin brand names as well as the generic name. In cases such as this give the best-known brand name (tested using keyword research), but indicate there are several – salbutamol (brand names include Ventolin).

Some medicines have no brand names in use. Examples include warfarin and hydrocortisone.

menopause

Use 'the menopause' except for page titles.

methadone

Lower case.

nausea

Use 'feeling sick' not 'nausea'.

normally

Use 'usually'. 

occur

Avoid. Try other words, like 'happen', or reword the sentence. For example, instead of 'Symptoms only occur in children under the age of 2', use 'Only children under the age of 2 get symptoms'.

oral

Use 'mouth'. For example, 'mouth cancer' rather than 'oral cancer'. If referring to medicines, use 'by mouth' or 'that you swallow'.

oral contraceptives

Use 'contraceptive pills'.

out-of-hours

If before the noun, use 'out-of-hours' service. If not before a noun, 'you can access this service out of hours'.

outpatient

One word

over-the-counter medicines

Use hyphens.

overtreatment

Not 'over-treatment'.

papillomavirus

Not 'papilloma virus'.

passing wind

See 'fart'.

patients

See 'people who use the HSE'

pee

Use 'pee' and 'urine'. Do not use 'wee'. Use 'pee' for the verb, not 'urinate' or 'pass urine'.

penis

Not 'genitals'.

persist

Use 'carry on' or 'keep going'.

people who use the HSE (see patients, service users)

There is no single term for people who use the HSE. What you call them depends on which part of the HSE they are using. Normally on HSE.ie you address people directly as ‘you’. If you ever need to refer to people indirectly, be as specific as possible: employees, HSE.ie users, older people applying for medical cards.

percentages

See the guidance on fractions and percentages in the 'Numbers, measurements, dates and time' page.

poo

Not 'bowel movement', 'faeces', 'poop' or 'stool sample'. You can add 'stool sample' in brackets after 'bottom', for example 'a sample of poo (stool sample)'.

practice

'Practice' is the noun, as in 'GP practice'. 'Practise' is a verb, for example, 'practise pelvic floor exercises'.

prediabetes

Not 'pre-diabetes'.

public health nurse (PHN)

'public health nurse (PHN)' and 'PHN' after that.

radiographer or radiologist

Radiographers take X-rays. Radiologists read them.

rectum

See 'bottom'.

 

seek

Use 'get help'.

service user

Lower case. We prefer the term 'people who use our services' or 'people who use the HSE'. See 'people who use the HSE'.

spina bifida

Lower case. See also 'hydrocephalus'.

substance misuse

Not 'substance abuse'.

suicide

'Died by suicide', not 'committed suicide'.

symphysiotomy

Lower case.

 

talk 

Use 'talk to your GP' not 'speak to your GP' or 'visit your GP'.

Traveller

Upper case when referring to a member of the Travelling Community.

treating

‘For treating’ not ‘in treating’.

For example, antiviral medicines are used 'for treating Cytomegalovirus (CMV)'.

urine

See 'pee'.

vagina

'Vagina' not 'genitals'.

wellbeing

One word.

whether or if

Use ‘if’ unless using ‘whether or not’ (conditional).

The GP did not know if the patient would arrive on Friday.

Call the GP whether or not you are going to arrive on Friday.

webpage and website

One word, for example read more on this 'webpage' on this 'website'. Avoid using 'webpage'.

x-ray

Do not capitalise unless referring to a specific department.