John Dixon, independent medical writer and trainer in scientific writing skills, provides a useful tip for medical writers who work in MedComms.

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Recorded 09 March 2020. Produced by

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Hi, I’m John Dixon, a trainer in scientific writing, and here’s a bite that I hope may help you with your writing.

Using however [NEXT SLIDE]

However is a very common and extremely useful word, particularly in academic discourse when we’re discussing arguments for … arguments against … and so on.

As a part of speech, it’s a coordinating adverb, alongside other words such as nevertheless, therefore, indeed, moreover, besides, consequently, accordingly, further.

Why discuss however? [NEXT]
Well, there’s considerable discussion about the correct use of punctuation with however. [NEXT]

However also has different meanings. It’s most commonly used in a similar way to the word nevertheless. And many of the principles here apply equally to the other coordinating adverbs.

However is also used, in the same way and perhaps incorrectly by some writers, to mean the same as but. However, the Chicago Manual of Style and other style guides suggest that however has a ‘more ponderous’ meaning than the stronger word but. More about this later.

However can also be used to mean in whatever way. [NEXT SLIDE]

Used to mean nevertheless, however emphasises the information that immediately precedes it. It may be used at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a sentence. [NEXT] But the punctuation used will depend upon its location, being followed by a comma at the beginning, surrounded by commas in the middle and preceded by a comma at the end of a sentence.

Here are three examples. [NEXT] After an initial sentence … Many writers know how to use the dash … The following sentence could start with … however … comma … some [NEXT] … or… place however in the middle of the sentence … so … some … comma … however … comma [NEXT] … or … place however at the end with … welcome a review of its use … comma … however. [NEXT] … [NEXT SLIDE]

Still considering its use in the same way as nevertheless, however can join two independent clauses. Best practice in this situation would place a semi-colon before … and a comma after … however.

You should compare this with using a coordinating conjunction (for instance, for, but, and). When joining two independent clauses together, coordinating conjunctions are only preceded by a comma. [NEXT]

So … Many writers know how to use the dash … semi-colon … however … comma … some may still welcome a review of its use. [NEXT] … [NEXT]

And avoid a single comma before using however to mean nevertheless when joining two independent clauses … as illustrated here. [NEXT]

Fowler’s Modern English Usage strongly advises against using however to mean but … long pause … A better alternative … though using however in a more ponderous way than but … is to begin a new sentence with however as already illustrated in the previous slide. [NEXT]

So, we should avoid the sentence … This drug is not licensed for use in children … comma … however … comma … it may be used in adults. [NEXT]
The word but, a coordinating conjunction, is probably more appropriate and could therefore be used here. So …. [NEXT] … This drug is not licensed for use in children … comma … but it may be used in adults. [NEXT]

An alternative, if you want to use however, is to start a new sentence with however. So [NEXT] … this drug is not licensed for use in children … full stop … However … comma … it may be used in adults [NEXT] … [NEXT SLIDE]

However can also be used to mean in whatever way.
So take this example … However hard we tried, we could not find a solution. There are no commas here. Indeed, placing a comma after however would make this sentence unintelligible.

Well, I hope that’s helpful. For more bites, visit

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