Hyphens, PB&J and more: A back-to-school AP style guide

The Stylebook recently updated its entry about apostrophes used with singular common nouns, and it shares guidance on several more terms used in copy about academia.

It’s back-to-school time again.

Whether you’re writing about classes that are already in session or finishing a guest post about academic preparation, AP Stylebook’s recent guidance and updated entries can help your copy make the dean’s list (note the lowercase).

Sharpen your No. 2 pencils for a survey course in AP style rules:

1. To hyphenate—or not to hyphenate?

It can be confusing to know whether you should hyphenate a term, write it as one word or break it up into two.

A student “dropout” (n.) is one word, but if you’re planning to “drop out” (v.) of your university, it’s two.

AP Stylebook has guidance for several other back-to-school terms:

Note that “home schooling” as a noun is two words, but “home-schooler” (n.), “home-school” (v.) and “home-schooled” (adj.) are all hyphenated.

Also of note is AP Stylebook’s guidance on grade levels:

2. Hone your apostrophe and comma use.

AP Stylebook changed its “possessives” entry and, on Wednesday, announced that it had updated its “apostrophe” entry, as well. Here’s the revised entry:

SINGULAR COMMON NOUNS ENDING IN S: Add ‘s:the hostess’s invitation, the hostess’s seat; the witness’s answer, the witness’s story. (A change from previous guidance calling for just an apostrophe if the next word begins with s.)

Along with adding “‘s” to singular nouns that end in “s,” writers should note that singular letter grades receive the same treatment. Here’s the example, from AP Stylebook:

an A , two B’s and three C’s

Note that “ABCs” does not use an apostrophe.

Though some writers are fans of the Oxford comma, AP style does not generally include its use. The exception is with sentences that require it for clarity.

If your sentence looks more like Morse code than prose, AP Stylebook offers the following advice:

3. Ace your abbreviations.

AP Stylebook notes that “PTA” is “acceptable in all references for Parent Teacher Association.” It also allows “GPA” in all references to “grade-point average.”

Write the “three R’s” when referring to those scholastic staples. AP Stylebook’s entry explains:

They are: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic.

4. Clarify names.

If you’re writing about students with the same names as their fathers, AP Stylebook offers this change in protocol:

The Stylebook entry also says:

… The notation II or 2nd may be used if it is the individual’s preference. Note, however, that II and 2nd are not necessarily the equivalent of junior; they often are used by a grandson or nephew.

Be clear in distinguishing between father and son on second reference if both names appear in a story.

5. What’s for lunch?

Along with previously mentioned abbreviations, it’s acceptable to use “PB&J”—a popular item in student’s lunchboxes—on first reference:

However, use “Marshmallow Fluff” (note the capitalization) only if a student’s sandwich includes that particular brand of sticky, sweet sandwich material:

All of this will be on the final exam.

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