Write. With Respect

Words matter. All scientific writing involves people, at a minimum the author and the reader. Respect your reader by writing authentically about your methods, your results, the limitations, and what might not be known.

You will likely be writing about other publications – work that came before – work that demonstrates the importance, plausibility, or validity of your question or methods. Cite these people appropriately. You may discuss the limitations of their work, and this is OK, but should be done in a balanced and honest way.

Many of you study people. Consider that traditional ways of referring to people in a study (“subject”, “participant”) may not be the most accurate and respectful. I suspect that these words serve to clinicalize our writing – providing distance and artificial objectivity that are misguided. How did the person come to be in the study and how would they like to be called? Did they really “volunteer”? They may be “patients”, but is this considered a term people choose?

Instead, perhaps refer to them with a neutral and appropriate term, such as “students” or “children”? Increasingly, I like the term “people” or “persons”. (There is no need to belabor that they are in your study. This is clear.)

Especially note that people are not “cases” (or “controls”). They are “people with colon cancer”, and you should refer to them as such. Yes, it takes more words. Respect them by using those words.