AP Style Rules: Correct Uses for Race-Related Terms, Gender-Neutral Words, and Election Lingo

We know journalists are busy, and it can be difficult to keep up with recent AP Style rules and 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.

AP Style Rules You Need to Know

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a few months since our last AP Style roundup. So much has happened since then.

Let’s recap some of the recent AP Style rule reminders. And with the presidential election quickly approaching, we’ll review some of the writing rules on that topic as well.

Election Terminology Recap

We reviewed AP Style rules regarding election lingo in a previous post. If you’re covering the election, make sure you’re familiar with these guidelines:

  • Always write vote totals with figures, not words, even if they’re under 10.
  • Always include a candidate’s political party; it’s essential information.
  • Capitalize Election Day. Lowercase election night. Both primary and primary day are lowercase.
  • Since it’s not an official title, first lady is always lowercase.
  • These titles should always be lowercase (unless included before names): president, vice president, press secretary, majority leader, and minority leader.
  • Avoid the informal term veep unless it’s part of a direct quote. VP is acceptable in headlines.
  • Include a hyphen in front-runner.
  • You can use GOP (Grand Old Party) on the second reference to the Republican Party.
  • A majority is more than half the votes cast; a plurality is the largest number of votes, but less than a majority.

Picture of a mail-in voting envelope with a blue face mask laying on top of it

Digital Security for Journalists

The @APStylebook Twitter held a chat on Aug. 19 to cover its new chapter on digital security for journalists. Here are a few takeaways:

Doxxing is “the malicious publication of information such as home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.”

Password security is crucial for journalists, whether for email or social media accounts, as they offer access to sources. Passwords should include a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols – and should differ for each account. AP also recommends using a password manager tool to help you keep track.

Journalists should always use secure Wi-Fi connections, whether via the office network or VPN software. Although phones are difficult to intercept, mobile carriers do have access to your location. Try using a “Faraday pouch” for your phone when meeting with sensitive sources.

Image of a lock overlaying lines of code

U.S. Postal Service

You should capitalize Postal Service later on in a story when referencing the U.S. Postal Service. As a standalone, “the service” should be lowercase.

As a generic reference to the agency or an individual post office, “post office” should be lowercase. Avoid the shorthand USPS.

Photo of a U.S. Postal Service truck parked at the curb

Race-Related Terms

Races

To align with other racial and ethnic identifiers like Latino and Asian American, AP Style was updated in June to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic, or cultural sense. After much debate, AP came to the decision that white should continue to be lowercase.

The term “people of color” is acceptable in broad references to people of races other than white in the U.S. However, the term can be viewed as lumping people together into one group, so be specific when possible and do not use the term “person of color” for an individual. Along similar lines, the term “minority” can be used as a broad reference, but be specific when possible and do not use it as a singular noun.

Capitalize Indigenous when referring to the original inhabitants of a place.

Latino and Latina are acceptable terms when describing men and women with ancestors from a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. Latinx is a gender-neutral term and should only be used in quotes or when someone specifically requests it – and make sure to explain it.

Keep in mind, you should often avoid identifying someone by their race, as it draws unnecessary attention to their race or ethnicity, which can be viewed as bigotry. Only note a person’s race or ethnicity if it’s relevant to the specific story and that relevance is made clear.

Racism

The term racist should not be used to describe a person, but rather a specific policy, action, or statement. If you determine that racist isn’t the right term, words like xenophobic, bigoted, biased, and nativist could be more appropriate.

Anti-racism should have a hyphen.

Read more guidelines for race-related coverage in this topical guide.

Diverse group of people - four hands gripping each other's wrists

Older Adults

Use phrases like older adult and older person instead of terms like senior citizen, seniors, and the elderly.

Use them in general phrases, rather than referring to specific individuals. If you can be specific, do it: “a community program for women over 65,” for example.

Two elderly women in a retirement home

Cooking

Although it can be argued that the term is redundant, preheat is correct. The guidance was updated since many recipes use the term and some ovens have a preheat setting.

PB&J is acceptable in all references.

While BLT is acceptable on the first reference, if you add avocado, don’t use BLAT – write it out.

Closeup photo of a BLT sandwich

Child care

Write babysit, babysitting, babysat, and babysitter as one word. Do not include a hyphen.

However, day care is two words.

Three children sitting on a play mat in a day care room

Gender-Neutral Lingo

In our last AP Style rules review, we discussed some gender-neutral language. Here are a few more reminders:

  • Replace the term mankind with options like humanity, humankind, humans, human beings, and people.
  • Avoid man-made and instead use terms like human-made, human-caused, artificial, or synthetic.
  • Use host instead of hostess.
  • Don’t use terms like heroine and fireman. Instead, replace them with hero and firefighter, for example.

drawing of several multicolored stick figures arranged in a circle

OK

AP Style doesn’t use the spelling “okay.” Correct uses are OK, OK’d, OK’ing, and OKs.

Red stamp of "OK" on a white background

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Rocky Parker is the manager of Audience Relations at PR Newswire. Check out her previous posts for Beyond Bylines and connect on LinkedIn. When she’s not working, Rocky typically can be found cooking, binge watching a new show, or playing with her puppy, Hudson.

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