12 recent AP Stylebook changes and reminders to know about

We know journalists are busy, and it can be difficult to keep up with recent AP Stylebook changes. So we’ve done the work for you, rounding up a few of the recent significant — and just plain interesting — updates to the AP Stylebook.

12 Rules: AP Stylebook Changes to Know

With the year coming to a close, we wanted to recap some of AP Stylebook’s recent chats, updates, and reminders.

The last few months have been a whirlwind. So, topics ranged from summer to winter weather, the midterm elections, and a popular chat on comma style.

Let’s dig in.

Election Style

Guest experts and Associated Press journalists David Scott and Jerry Schwartz joined @APStylebook on Oct. 15 to discuss style questions for politics and polling.

Here are a few of 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%) 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, like 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.
  • While poll and survey results can be part of a story, 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.
  • For even more election- and politics-related style questions, check out AP Stylebook’s 2018 Midterm Elections Topical Guide.

Black and white polling station sign leaning against a set of steps

Winter Weather

A winter weather chat on Dec. 2 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 less than 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 sharing a workspace and amenities, who are not working for the same employer. This applies to individuals who are self-employed or working remote.

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

Want to learn more? Check out Harvard Business Review’s Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces to learn more about this concept that’s growing in popularity with freelancers and remote workers.

Open office with employees sitting at desks in front of computers

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.

A doctor sitting behind an open laptop, pointing out something on the screen to a patient

Tennis Terminology

During the U.S. Open, AP Stylebook tweeted reminders of common tennis terms, including double-fault, double-faulted, Love, deuce, advantage, and tiebreaker.

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

View of a tennis player's feet, racket and tennis ball through the net

Hurricanes

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

Fun fact: 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.

Hurricane eye and storm over the water, viewed from above

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.”

Examples: acai, quinoa, chia, and spinach.

Photo of a bowl of superfoods, with fruit and oats and a green beverage next to the bowl

2 vs. II

Deciding whether to use a number or Roman numeral?

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.

Clock face with roman numerals

Commas, commas, and more commas

@APStylebook held a Twitter chat on Oct. 1 with editor Paula Froke to answer questions on comma use.

  • Use what’s needed. That’s AP’s general rule for punctuation.
  • Questions about the Oxford comma are the most common. AP Style is to not include a comma before the conjunction in a simple series like “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 and comma inside the quotation marks. Placement of other punctuation, like 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 quick reference.

Black and white photo of two people shaking hands

Federal Legal Holidays

On Columbus Day, Oct. 8, @APStylebook posted a few 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, 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.

Hand holding a lit sparkler and American flag

Holiday Foods

With the holidays approaching, AP Stylebook held an expert chat about holiday food style on Nov. 13. 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, like Chianti or Swiss cheese. Others should stay lowercase, like chardonnay and cheddar.
  • Potluck is one word.

Table set for a holiday meal, with a turkey and salad on the table

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Rocky Parker works in Audience Relations at PR Newswire. Check out her previous posts for Beyond Bylines. Rocky can be found cooking, binge-watching a new show, or playing with her puppy, Hudson, when she’s not working. 

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