An Interesting Corpus Linguistics Study (Millar et. al. 2012)

This is a study which produced a corpus of about 1,200,000 words from Randomized Control Trials from 5 of the top medical journals. The methods described in the study provide a practical framework for how to build a written corpus of high quality medical English and compare it with general English in order to gain insights into the characteristics of medical English.

‘Use the active voice whenever possible’: The Impact of Style Guidelines in Medical Journals

  1. Neil Millar1,*,
  2. Brian Budgell2 and
  3. Keith Fuller3

Author Affiliations

  1. 1Department of English, University of Birmingham, 2Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Toronto and 3Institute of Communication, Culture and Information Technology, University of Toronto
  1. *E-mail:


Medical writing is sometimes criticized for excessive use of the passive voice. The purpose of this study is twofold: (i) to provide quantitative descriptions of how the passive voice is used in medical journals and (ii) to assess the impact of style guidelines encouraging use of the active voice. From a corpus of 297 primary research articles published in the top five medical journals, we extracted 19,691 passive constructions. Analyses show that guidelines have a significant effect on use of the passive voice, and that this is highly localized in the ‘Methods’ and ‘Results’ sections. Analyses also identify a core set of verbs which are strongly associated with the passive voice, and which play a central role in structuring the discourse. We argue that current guidelines influence author’s linguistic choices, and that although paraphrasing a sentence in the active voice may be possible, a passive alternative is sometimes preferable. Findings demonstrate the need for formative guidelines which better reflect the reality of conventionalized usage.

Applied Linguistics:


Methodologies used in this study have wide ranging applicability. A study examining dermatological case studies is currently is in the planing stages. That study will examine commonly used dermatological expressions such as nodule, papule, lesion etc. and how they are used in dermatological case studies.

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LinguaMedica activities

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“e-Source” online interactive resource on behavioral and social science research methods

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) has developed e-Source, an interactive, online course on research methods and tools for researchers engaging in behavioral and social sciences research on health-related topics.

The resource consists of 20 chapters divided into five categories. Although only the chapter “Conversation Analysis as an Approach to the Medical Encounter” by John Heritage, PhD, is directly related to applied linguistics, all 20 chapters should be useful for applied linguists interested in health-related research, as they provide a basic foundation for collaboration with other social scientists such as psychologists, economists, anthropologists, and sociologists as well as biological scientists.

All chapters are written by international experts and provide authoritative answers to methodological questions covering a wide range of social science areas, all in one free and openly accessible central resource. A discussion forum, note-taking capabilities, sharing features, interactive exercises, print-to-PDF function, and references linked directly to Pubmed provide an engaging learning experience.

According to the developers, the site will continue to evolve as new issues emerge, and they list among possible future topics “the impact of differences in language and lifestyles” and “the science of writing questions”, topics which should be of interest to applied linguists.


  1. Appropriate Research Methods (John B. McKinlay, PhD)
  2. The Concept of ‘Science’ in the Social Sciences (Jeffrey Coulter, PhD)
  3. Design Decisions in Research (Robin Whittemore, PhD and Gail Melkus, PhD)
  4. Theory Development and Construction (Stephen Turner, PhD)
  5. Social and Behavioral Theories in Public Health Interventions (Karen Glanz, PhD)
  6. Concepts in Sample Surveys (Sarah M. Nusser, PhD and Michael D. Larsen, PhD)
  7. Principles of Social Survey Data Collection (Stephen Woodland)
  8. Administrative Data Systems in Research on Health and Aging (Vincent Mor, PhD)
  9. A Reporting Checklist for Observational Studies (Richard Berk, PhD)
  10. Using Qualitative Methods to Study Health and Illness (David Silverman, PhD)
  11. Conversation Analysis as an Approach to the Medical Encounter (John Heritage, PhD)
  12. Integrating Software and Qualitative Analysis (Eben Weitzman, PhD)
  13. Clinical Trials (Duolao Wang, PhD and Ameet Bakhai, MD, MRCP)
  14. Cluster Unit Randomized Trials (Allan Donner, PhD)
  15. Ethical Challenges of Research (Miriam Kelty, PhD)
  16. Multilevel Modeling: A Conceptual and Methodological Overview (S. V. Subramanian, PhD)
  17. Objective Measurement of Subjective Phenomena (Keith Widaman, PhD)
  18. Measuring Socioeconomic Status (J. Michael Oakes, PhD)
  19. Evaluating the Quality of Health Care (Paul Cleary, PhD and Margaret E. O’Kane)
  20. From Quality of Life to Patient-Reported Outcomes (Donald L. Patrick, PhD and Gordon Guyatt, PhD)
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