Wikipedia:WikiProject Anatomy/Simplifying anatomical terminology

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There is no need to use complicated terminology (WP:TECHNICAL) when writing about anatomy or any other topic, especially when simpler terms exist.

Using complex terminology:

  • Makes it harder for readers to understand
  • Deters editing by readers, who may be afraid to 'make a mistake'
  • May perpetuate a mistake, because only a few readers will know if something is right or wrong.
  • As only a few readers can understand the article, does not help to improve the anatomical literacy of readers.

There are ways to write about anatomy that are less complex, and some examples are below. In summary:

  • language which is more common or easier to understand can replace more complex terms
  • difficult terms or concepts should be explained
  • article structure should guide readers from easy to difficult
  • excessive or irrelevant details should be moved to the primary article or removed entirely

This is a restatement of the Wikipedia Manual of Style.


Where possible, use simpler or more commonplace language.[1]

  1. Use lay equivalents for anatomical terms. When obvious from context, many terms of direction (Table 1) and other terms may be appropriately simplified in articles. For example, there is no need to state
    "the jugular vein may be palpable..." when
    "the jugular vein may be felt..." conveys the same meaning, or
    "the olecranon is at a ulnar extremity" when
    "the olecranon is at the end of the ulna" will do.
  2. Use forms of words readers are familiar with. For example, there is a complex lexicon of adjectives based on anatomical words (fibular, palmar, ...). Where possible, substituting these terms for a slightly more readable equivalent ("on the side of the palm") may decrease the complexity of text.
    Innervated by
    The nerve that supplies X is...
    Posteroinferior to is an example of one of hundreds of combined terms that can easily be simplified
    Behind and below X is...
  3. When linking to other articles, use their common names. Unless it is generally accepted, there is no reason to use alternate names other than to confuse readers.
Term Examples of terms that can be substituted.[a]
Anterior/Posterior In front / behind
Proximal/Distal Upper / lower
Superior/Inferior Above / below
Superficial/profound Outer / Inner
Squamous cells Flat cells
Histology Under microscopy


Where terms are included, they might not be immediately understandable

  1. Explain directly. Anatomical terminology is not always known by readers. Consider explaining the implications of some terms when necessary. For example, a sentence such as:
    "The triceps extends the arm" may not be readily understood. A small addition may help the reader:
    "The triceps extends the arm, straightening it". Consider:
    "A person will have anosmia", which can be better communicated as either:
    "A person will not be able to smell (Anosmia)", explaining the term directly, or
    "A person will not be able to smell", using wikilinks
  2. Provide some context. Many anatomical topics require extensive knowledge of other topics before they can be processed. One example is embryological articles, where to understand one article a reader may need to have knowledge of what two or three other terms are, and for those two articles, four more articles, and so on. Thus readers may have difficulty understanding an article. One solution is to provide a minimum of useful background information. For example:
    "four swellings develop within the wall of the truncus arteriosus" is only useful if the reader knows what the truncus arteriosus is, but
    "four swellings develop in the wall of the truncus arteriosus, which is the combined outflow tract of the heart in early embryological life." may be more readily understood by readers.
  3. Use wikilinks. Wikilinks can be provided either to other anatomical articles, or to wiktionary by typing [[:wikt:name]]. Don't be afraid to wikilink terminology that is uncommon or difficult for readers, or to point readers to a parent article when using simpler language. For example:
    "The Incudostapedial joint is relatively immobile..."
    "The joint between the stapes and incus does not move very much"
    "The stomach is lined by simple columnar epithelia..." may be appropriate in the "Histology" section, but
    "The stomach is lined by a single layer of columnar cells" may be more appropriate and easily understood in the lede.


Separating our content by sentence, paragraph and article helps compartmentalise information, making it easier for reading and editing alike.

  1. One sentence, one idea. Multiclausal sentences are difficult to understand and process. Instead of long sentences conveying multiple ideas about a topic, shorter sentences are easier to read and understand. They also make citing easier for later editors, as citations can then be provide in piecemeal.
  2. One paragraph, one theme. Divide information up by paragraph and headings. Grouping information by 'theme' into headings and paragraphs allows a reader to take in information one bite at a time. If information is conveyed in an arbitrary, discursive or comparative manner, it may be much more difficult for lay readers to understand.
  3. If necessary, consider using notes to convey useful but accessory information.[b]. Sometimes, it is useful to convey information, but introducing it into a paragraph as text may make a paragraph overly complex.


Not all information needs to be provided in every article.

  1. Use hatnotes and keep within the scope of an article. Not every article within a topic needs a detailed overview of that topic. Imagine if every branch of the facial nerve had a complete description of the paths of every other branch. A reader wishing to understand this topic by viewing the encyclopedia would then have to view at least 8 separate descriptions, all of which would be invariably slightly different, and result in a very confusing outcome. A better method would be to use the {{main}} hatnote to refer each article to the Trigeminal nerve#Structure subsection:
  2. Don't write lists of synonyms. In secondary articles, there's no need to provide numerous examples of names unless they are all equally used, particularly if the terms are minor variants (e.g. "the anteroposterior, or antero-posterior"), and this certainly shouldn't be done repeatedly. Synonymous titles can be represented in the primary articles. For example:
    "The branches of the trigeminal nerve are the opthalmic nerve (nervus opthalmicus), maxillary nerve (nervus maxillaris), and mandibular nerve (nervus mandibularis)" does not need to state the Latin names -- these can all be provided in the articles themselves.
    "The branches of the trigeminal nerve are the opthalmic nerve, maxillary nerve, and mandibular nerve" is much easier to digest.
    "The vagus nerve (Cranial nerve X)..." should occur once only, in the lead of the article vagus nerve.
    "The vagus nerve..." should be used thereafter
  3. Avoid unnecessary paraphrasing. Frequent paraphrasing suggests that an article is unnecessarily difficult to read. In this case, the content should be more clearly expressed or removed. For example, a sentence such as:
    "The gastroesophageal junction is found on the distal end (end closest to the stomach) of the esophagus (gullet)" can be written as
    "The gastroesophageal junction occurs near the lower end of the esophagus".


  1. ^ When appropriate
  2. ^ Such as this