12 recent AP style changes

Abiding by journalists’ preferred writing rulebook is a huge first step toward getting your pitch read. Heed these fresh updates.

Keeping pace with AP Stylebook guidance is a tremendous way to catch a journalist’s eye.

Following AP style also keeps your writing tidy, clear and concise, so let’s dig into some recent changes and clarifications:

Elections

Associated Press journalists David Scott and Jerry Schwartz joined @APStylebook to discuss style questions for politics and polling.

Here are the top responses:

  • Capitalize Election Day. Lowercase election night.
  • Avoid the phrase “heading to the polls.” It’s not representative of a large portion, roughly 40 percent, of votes that are cast before Election Day.
  • When reporting voting results, use a hyphen if the number of votes on each side is less than 1,000 (745-632). If at least one of the amounts is more than 1,000, use “to” instead (847 to 1,363).
  • Vote totals should always be written with figures, not words, even if they’re under 10. Voting-related terms, however, should still use words if under 10, such as “three-vote majority.”
  • Always include a candidate’s political party; it’s essential information.
  • Fundraiser and fundraising are single words. Use a hyphen in re-elect and re-election.
  • Poll and survey results can be part of a story, but they never are the whole story. Always carefully consider who paid for it, the methodology, sample size and results. The 2018 Stylebook has a new chapter covering polls and surveys.

Winter weather

A winter weather chat with Paula Froke offered some helpful reminders:

  • Snow flurries refer to “intermittent light snowfall of short duration (generally light snow showers) with no measurable accumulation.”
  • Since it’s a measurement, always use figures for snow depths, even for numbers under 10.
  • Use one word for snowsuit, snowplow, snowfall, snowman and snowflakes. Snow day, snow cover, and wind chill are two words.
  • Temperatures can rise or fall, get higher or lower. They don’t get warmer or cooler.
  • Nor’easters are storms existing or moving north along the East Coast. They often produce heavy snow or rain, with wind gusts that can exceed hurricane force in intensity.

Coworking vs. Co-worker

Coworking, no hyphen, refers to people who are sharing a workspace and amenities but are not working for the same employer. This applies to individuals who are self-employed or working remotely.

Co-worker, on the other hand, is used for a colleague within the same company.

HIPAA

HIPAA, the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, generally should be avoided.

@APStylebook recommends referring instead to “privacy laws or the federal law restricting release of medical information.”

Make sure to explain HIPAA if it’s used.

Tennis, anyone?

During the U.S. Open, AP Stylebook tweeted reminders of common tennis terms, including double-fault, double-faulted, love, deuce, advantage, runner-up, Grand Slam title and tiebreaker.

The U.S. Tennis Association also has a handy Tennis 101 terms list.

Hurricanes

“Hurricane” should be capitalized when used with the storm’s assigned name, such as Hurricane Florence.

Using just the name is OK if the context is obvious. For example, Florence Death Toll Rises To 23 As Rivers Continue To Flood In N.C. And S.C.

Based on the intensity of sustained winds, storms are ranked 1 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Categories 3, 4 and 5 are considered major.

Note: The Saffir–Simpson scale is used only to describe hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean and northern Pacific Ocean east of the International Date Line. Different scales are used in other areas, and storms may be referred to as “cyclones” or “typhoons.”

Read more: Meteorologists to newsrooms: Hurricane impacts defy categorization.

Superfoods

According to @APStylebook, “The term superfoods refers to foods thought to be nutritionally dense. Mostly plant-based, they also include some fish and dairy.”

Superfood examples include acai, quinoa, chia and spinach.

2 vs. II

According to AP style, Roman numerals should be used in the personal sequences of people and animals (World War I) as well as some legislative acts (Title IX).

However, Roman numerals should be avoided when discussing the Super Bowl (1969 Super Bowl, for example, rather than Super Bowl III).

If you aren’t sure of the correct Roman numeral, here’s a handy conversion tool: https://www.romannumerals.org/converter.

Commas, commas and more commas

@APStylebook held a recent Twitter chat with Froke to answer questions on comma use. Here’s a handful of key takeaways:

  • AP’s general rule for punctuation is to use what’s needed.
  • Questions about the Oxford comma are the most common. AP style advises not including a comma before the conjunction in a simple series such as “The flag is red, white and blue.” However, if the comma is necessary for clarity or if an integral part of the series includes a conjunction, it should be added. For example: “The blog offers ideas for decor, DIY projects, and organizing and cleaning.”
  • In the U.S., always place the period or comma inside quotation marks. Placement of other punctuation, such as semicolons and question marks, depends on whether it applies to the quoted text or whole sentence.
  • Don’t substitute a comma for a semicolon. Semicolons communicate more separation of thought than commas. Froke’s example was “Right: I love talking about commas; it’s my favorite topic. Wrong: I love talking about commas, it’s my favorite topic.”
  • Generally, state names after cities should be followed by a comma. For example, she visited her family in Boulder, Colorado, last spring.
  • When a phrase includes a month, day and year, the year should be followed by a comma.

United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement

The agreement’s full name is preferred for the first mention, and it should be followed by a brief description. USMCA is acceptable for subsequent references.

USMCA replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

Check out Vox’s 500-word USMCA explainer for a quick overview.

Federal holidays

@APStylebook also posted reminders about federal legal holidays.

  • What are they? “The designation of a day as a federal legal holiday means that federal employees receive the day off or are paid overtime if they must work.”
  • When are they? New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas make up the U.S. federal legal holidays.

Holiday foods

Guest expert Shelley Acoca shared the following reminders:

  • No need for tin foil or aluminum foil. Simply use foil.
  • Baking plurals? Correct uses are teaspoonfuls and cupfuls (s at the end)
  • Frosting and icing are both acceptable, although use may differ regionally.
  • “Baking sheet” is preferred to “cookie sheet,” since cookies aren’t the only item it’s used for.
  • The following should be one word: sugarplums, fruitcake, eggnog, gingerbread, cornbread, cornmeal and cornstarch.
  • Dressing is cooked outside of the bird; stuffing is cooked inside. This also differs depending on the region.
  • When referencing wine and cheese, capitalize those named for a region, such as Chianti or Swiss cheese, but chardonnay and cheddar should remain lowercase.
  • Potluck is one word.

A version of this post first appeared on Cision’s Beyond Bylines blog.

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