Proofed Guide to AP Style
  • 36-minute read
  • 12th October 2023

Proofed Guide to AP Style

Please note that this guide is based on the AP Stylebook, last updated June 1, 2022.

This guide does not include everything contained in the stylebook. Rather, it aims to cover the most salient points and provide details of AP Style’s approach to key editorial issues.

Dictionaries and Other Authorities

The following should be used as additional authorities to AP Style:

Webster’s New World College Dictionary (use the first spelling listed unless AP Style specifies otherwise).

New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq or the Securities and Exchange Commission for formal company names. Use Co., Inc., Ltd., Corp. after the name as appropriate.

National Geographic Atlas of the World for place names not in Webster’s.

Punctuation

It wouldn’t be practical to list all the punctuation rules here. Instead, we’ve included those AP Style punctuation rules that might go against common practice.

Note that AP Style values consistency, so you can often determine what to do in a given situation by following related rules.

Otherwise, use standard U.S. English practice unless the client has requested another dialect.

Apostrophes

  • Always use ‘s if the word does not end in the letter s.
  • Singular common nouns ending in s: add ‘s: the class’s inattention, the business’s opening day.
  • Singular proper names ending in s: use only an apostrophe: Paris’ history, Achilles’ heel.
  • Special expressions: words that end in an s sound and are followed by a word that begins with s: for appearance’ sake, for conscience’ sake, for goodness’ sake.
  • Descriptive phrases: do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: a teachers college, a writers guide. You’ll see this a lot in organization names.
  • Inanimate objects: avoid excessive personalization of inanimate objects, and give preference to an “of” construction when it fits the makeup of the sentence: mathematics’ rules >> the rules of mathematics.
  • Plurals of a single letter: include an apostrophe in single-letter plurals: he learned the three R’s and brought home a report card with four A’s and two B’s.
  • Possessive of Jr./Sr.: John Smith Jr.’s house.

Brackets and Parentheses

  • Avoid using square brackets.
  • Use parentheses sparingly; consider rewording the sentence.

Bulleted Lists

  • Use em dash + space to introduce bullets (bullet points are also acceptable).
  • Capitalize the first word.
  • Always end in a period.
  • Watch out for parallelism.
  • Introduce the list with a short phrase + colon.

Colons

  • Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it’s a proper noun or the start of a full sentence.
  • Use a colon to introduce a direct quotation over one sentence long, either within a paragraph or as a block quote.
  • Use a colon in interviews/reporting of dialogue/Q&As: Anthony: I disagree.

Commas

 

  • Only use a serial comma if it’s required to make the meaning clear.
  • Use a comma to separate an introductory clause or phrase from the rest of the sentence. It can be omitted from short introductory phrases if no ambiguity results from doing so.
  • Use a comma when giving a person’s name and town/country, or between a place name and the country where it is located: John Smith, Tennessee; The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim.
  • Use a comma to separate similar/duplicated words: The question is, is this the right path to take?
  • Use a comma separator in words <999 except in certain situations (e.g., 1460 kHz; Room 1001).
  • i.e./e.g. are always followed by a comma.

Dashes

  • Use the parenthetical spaced em dash (sparingly).
  • Use a dash before an author’s or composer’s name at the end of a quotation: “I’ll probably always be interested in this planet — it’s my favorite.” — Sagan.
  • Do not use en dashes (use a hyphen for ranges).

Ellipses

  • Use a space before and after an ellipsis.
  • In a quotation, if the words before an ellipsis form a complete sentence, place a period before the ellipsis (. …).
  • Follow a similar approach if another type of punctuation is required before the ellipsis (e.g., ? …).
  • When material is deleted at the end of one paragraph and at the beginning of the one that follows, place an ellipsis in both locations.

Exclamation Points

  • Use sparingly — only where it’s really warranted.
  • Do not include a comma after an exclamation mark in dialogue: “Stop!” she shouted.

Hyphens

  • Use hyphens to aid clarity. If it gets too confusing, then consider rewording the sentence.
  • If you’re unsure whether a hyphen is required in a compound adjective, check its use in Webster’s New World College Dictionary.
  • Don’t use hyphens in phrasal verbs, but do use them in compound verbs: he backed up the vehicle vs. they double-checked the results or she air-dried the strawberries.
  • Words that are usually one-word compounds should be separated when a modifier is added. However, it’s difficult to think of an example of how this would work in practice: perhaps external-mail box?
  • Do not use a hyphen with dual heritages (Italian American) but do use it with “Anglo-” when the word that follows is a capital (Anglo-Saxon but Anglophile).
  • Prefixes that usually require a hyphen: self-, all-, ex-, half-.
  • Suffixes that usually require a hyphen: -free, -based, -elect.
  • Use a hyphen to avoid duplicated vowels (except ee): anti-establishment, preempt.
  • Other examples; state-of-the-art, arm-in-arm, non-life-threatening, 5- and 6-year-olds, 10-to-12-inch needle.
  • Co-: Keep the hyphen when used to create a word that indicates occupation or status (co-author, co-host, co-worker etc).
  • Don’t use hyphens in e.g., fourth grade student, unless needed to avoid confusion.

Periods

 

  • Use a period at the end of a rhetorical question if it’s more of a sentence than a question: Why not eat all the cake.
  • Use a period in initials (no space between multiple initials): J.R.R. Tolkein. Avoid using single initials (J. Smith) unless it’s personal preference or the first name cannot be established.

Quotation Marks

  • Use double quotation marks (nested single), except in headlines (use single).
  • For quotations over two paragraphs: when the quoted material in the first paragraph is a full sentence, don’t include closed quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph: She said, “I think that’s a great idea. ¶ “Everyone should get a free cake.”
  • Quotation marks are not used in Q&As.
  • Use quotation marks to indicate irony.
  • Use quotation marks to define unfamiliar terms upon first use.
  • The dash, the semicolon, the colon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only.

See also Quotations in the Style section of this guide.

References and Third-Party Sources

AP Style doesn’t say much about references/citations. The following are some notes about the mention of creative works in text.

See also Third-party Sources in the Style section of this guide.

  • Put all names of creative works in AP Style title case. Capitalize both parts of a phrasal verb and “to” in “to be.”
  • Put quotation marks around: books, articles, songs, albums, paintings, movies (including “Star Wars”, “Star Wars” Day etc.), plays, poems, operas, radio/TV programs and episodes, lectures, speeches, event names, classical music (when using its popular name, e.g., Beethoven’s “Eroica”).
  • Don’t put quotation marks around: holy books, almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks, sculptures, software, video/online games, classical music (official/numbered name, e.g., Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E flat major).
  • Classical music: put the key in lowercase (C sharp minor). Put the instruments in lowercase if not part of the work’s official name but added as a description: … for harpsichord.
  • AP does not use italics.
  • Translate foreign titles into English unless they’re better known by their original name. Exception: musical compositions — refer to the work in the language it was sung in, unless in a Slavic language (translate works in Slavic languages).
  • Capitalize “the” in newspaper/magazine names if that is the way the newspaper is known: The Times; The Economist.
  • Poetry: If giving in-line, separate each line with a forward slash with a space either side (Despite the storms, / beauty arrives like). Follow the author’s approach to capitalizing the first word of lines.

Spelling, Capitalization and Form

Here are some (perhaps) non-standard approaches to spelling, capitalization and form found in AP Style. Only those that differ from Webster’s Dictionary (or do not clearly appear in it) are included here.

(If we’ve missed any out, please let us know!)

Tip: To confirm whether the first word in a Webster’s entry is capitalized, scroll down to look at the “other word forms” in the dictionary entry.

20-something checkout (n. and adj.) esports M.D.
24/7 child care Ferris wheel Medfly
401(k) chipmaker former Soviet republic(s) mpox
A-list climate change G20 Myspace
ad-lib coffee maker G7 offline
aka copyright (n., v. and adj.) global warming one person, one vote (n.)
all right copyrighted (v., p.t.) Hajj one-person, one-vote (adj.)
anti-abortion COVID-19 half dollar policymaker
anti-labor D-Day half size Presidents Day
anti-social data processing (n. and adj.) half-dozen street-wise
antisemitism daylight saving time half-mile trans-Atlantic
antispyware Diners Club halftrack trans-Pacific
blastoff (n. and adj.) distance learning (n. and adj.) hand-washing U.S. Marshals Service
Blu-ray Disc drive-thru hertz v-chip
Bosnia-Herzegovina drugmaker ice age V-E Day
breakdown (n. and adj.) E. coli internet V-J Day
bull’s-eye Ebola Internet of Things vice [role] (two words, e.g., vice president)
cellphone editor-in-chief K-9

Preferred Terms

Here is a list of terms for which AP Style has stated a preference. Note that:

  • The preferred term is given first, with the non-preferred term given in parentheses.
  • Non-preferred terms that should never be used (outside of direct quotes) are *asterisked*.
  • Additional information is given where needed.
  • Most non-preferred terms can be used in direct quotes (with the exception of offensive or vulgar terms).
  • Where AP Style doesn’t include a preferred term, the column is left blank.
  • Further information about preferred terms relating to age, gender, disability and race is given in Inclusive Language in the Usage section of this guide.
Preferred Term Avoid/*Do Not Use* Comments
Child prostitute This implies consent; minors cannot legally consent.
Controversial Overused; avoid if the issue is evidently controversial.
[Various terms depending on the nature of the crime] Cyberattack Cyberattack should only be used to describe nefarious computer-related activities that cause significant physical damage or significant/wide-ranging disruption.
Definitely Overused; avoid.
*Gyp*
Incident Don’t use this as a vague euphemism for e.g., shootings; be more specific.
IP address Avoid; if it’s necessary to use it, then provide a brief definition if it seems required.
Photoshopped Don’t use this as a verb.
Tasered Don’t use this as a verb.
Actor Actress Don’t use the female-gendered term.
Animal welfare Animal rights
Anti-abortion, abortion-rights *Pro-life*, *pro-choice* or *pro-abortion*
As if As though
Caregiver Caretaker For when taking care of another person.
Celsius Centigrade
Chatbot ChatGPT That is, don’t use “ChatGPT” to refer to all AI chatbots.
Child sexual abuse images *Child pornography*
Cleft lip *Harelip*
Collision, crash Accident When negligence has been proven, don’t call something an accident.
Companion, lover Mistress Mistress is out-dated and offensive.
Coup Coup d’etat
Cross-dresser Transvestite
Czar Tsar Except to describe the historical ruler of Russia.
Czechia, the Czech Republic *Czechoslovakia* Unless in a historical context.
Death, die Passed on/away Avoid euphemisms.
Demolished Partially demolished, totally demolished Avoid contradiction/tautology.
Developing nations Third World countries
Different from *Different than*
Dissociate *Disassociate*
Doesn’t have children *Child-free*, *childless*
Drug combination, drugs *Cocktail of drugs*
Drugs Narcotics
Drunken driver Drunk driver “Drunken” (adj.) used before nouns.
Entered, typed Input (v.) In the sense of entering data into a computer.
Fabric fastener Velcro
Female student Coed
First-year student Freshman
Forcible expulsion of a population Ethnic cleansing Unless “ethnic cleansing” is put in inverted commas and explained.
Former Ex- E.g., ex-President/former president.
Four-wheel drive 4x4 Unless part of a vehicle name.
Hero Heroine Avoid gendering the term.
High blood pressure Hypertension
Hodgkin lymphoma Hodgkin’s disease
Host Hostess Avoid gendering the term.
Human-made, artificial Man-made Avoid gendering the term.
Humanity, human beings Mankind Avoid gendering the term.
Hydrogen bomb H-bomb
Injuries/deaths Casualties
Inquire, inquiry Enquire, enquiry
Inuit Eskimo Unless personal preference/paired with a group’s ethnic name, e.g., Inupiat Eskimos.
Jihadi(s) Jihadist(s)
Left, right Port, starboard
Lend (v.) Loan (v.)
Magnitude Richter The Richter scale is no longer widely used to describe earthquakes.
Mail carrier Mailman Avoid gendering the term.
Maintenance hole Manhole Avoid gendering the term.
Man Male (n.) In most instances, “male” should not be used as a noun unless used to describe animals other than humans.
Many *** people The *** community Avoid the homogenizing effect of “community” where possible/appropriate.
Member of congress Congressperson Congressman and congresswoman are also acceptable in the right context.
No symptoms, without symptoms Asymptomatic
Non-disabled Able-bodied
OK *Okay*
Older adult/person/people Senior citizens, *the elderly*, seniors
People who do not believe/agree that *** is responsible for climate change Climate change deniers/skeptics/doubters Provide specific information about the individuals’ beliefs.
People who oppose vaccines Anti-vaxxer Be specific about the person or group’s position.
Police officer Cop
Police officer Policeman/woman Avoid gendering the term.
Privacy laws restricting release of medical information HIPAA
Quran Koran Unless there is a stated preference.
Real estate agent Realtor
Regardless Irregardless
Roadside bomb IED
Romani/Roma Gypsy
Said Claimed When the intention is simply to report what someone has said, not to cast doubt or present an alternative point of view.
Salesperson, sales associate etc. Salesman/woman Avoid gendering the term.
Search Manhunt Avoid gendering the term.
Server Waiter/waitress Avoid gendering the term.
Singer, songwriter Songstress Avoid gendering the term.
Spongy moth Gypsy moth Acknowledge recent name change (2022) in the text.
Submarine U-boat Unless specifically referring to a WWI or II German submarine.
Teenage Teen-aged
Text message SMS
The eleventh hour The 11th hour
Transgender Transsexual
variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease Mad cow disease To describe the disease affecting people; mad cow disease only affects cows. The word “variant” is needed in this context.
Woman (female, n.) Female (n.) In most instances, “female” should not be used as a noun unless used to describe animals other than humans. See also Inclusive Language in the Usage section for issues with gender identity.

Usage

Abbreviations and Acronyms

General

  • Avoid “alphabet soup,” i.e., when there are too many acronyms for the sake of having acronyms.
  • DO NOT DEFINE ACRONYMS: The Prudential Regulation Authority released a statement … The PRA said that … not The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) released a statement … The PRA said that …
  • Give an organization’s name in full on first use then use the acronym or shortened version thereafter. If it would not be clear what the acronym is referring to, don’t use it.
  • Consider the audience when deciding how/whether to introduce or explain an acronym.
  • Some acronyms are acceptable on first reference (then should be defined or explained in text). Some you need to use the full term and then the acronym thereafter. Finally, some (famous ones) use the acronym throughout, no definition required. These last are listed in Exceptions, below.
  • Some common abbreviations: a.m./p.m.; No.; Corp.; Sept.; B.C.; Lt. Col.; Rep.; Sen., Dr.; Ave.
  • Generally speaking, only use abbreviations when they accompany the noun they relate to (a numbered address in the case of Blvd., St. and Ave.): Room No. 23; 37 B.C; Lt. Col. Johnson; Washington Blvd.; 10 Castle St.; 20 Cornwall Ave. Don’t use No. in addresses, except for No. 10 Downing St.
  • Don’t use periods in acronyms, but use them in most two-letter abbreviations: U.S., U.N., U.K., M.D. etc.

Exceptions

  • Use the following abbreviations in all cases, no need to define:

911 (emergency number)

app (application)

AT&T (company name)

ATM (automated teller machine

c.o.d. (cash on delivery)

CBD (cannabidiol)

CD (compact disc)

CIA (Central Intelligence Agency)

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)

dpa (Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH)

DVD (digital versatile disc),

E. coli (Escherichia coli)

f.o.b. (free on board)

FAQ (frequently asked questions)

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

FM (frequency modulation)

GPA (grade point average)

GPS (global positioning system)

HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface)

IBM (company name)

Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization)

IQ (intelligence quotient)

IRS (Internal Revenue Service)

IT (Information Technology; don’t spell out in technical articles)

IV (intravenous line)

JPG/JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

LED (light-emitting diode)

mpg (miles per gallon; use with a figure, e.g., 40 mpg)

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

NBC (National Broadcasting Company)

OB-GYN (obstetrician gynecologist)

OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)

PC (personal computer)

PDA (personal digital assistant)

PDF (portable document format)

PT (patrol torpedo) boat

PTA (parent–teacher association)

Q&A (questions and answers)

R&B (rhythm and blues)

radar (radio detection and ranging)

ROM (read-only memory)

ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps)

rpm (revolutions per minute; use in auto magazines etc.),

S&P 500 (Standard & Poors 500)

SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test)

SST (supersonic transport)

SWAT (special weapons and tactics)

Tass (tactical air-to-surface system)

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)

TNT (trinitrotoluene)

TV (television)

U.K. (United Kingdom)

U.S. (United States)

UFO (unidentified flying object)

UHF (ultra-high frequency)

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund)

UPS (United Parcel Service) Inc.

URL (uniform resource locator)

USB (universal serial bus)

USO (united service organizations)

USS (United States ship)

VHF (very high frequency)

VIP (very important person)

Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity)

XML (extensible markup language)

ZIP (zone improvement plan) code

  • Always abbreviate Jr./Sr. after names.
  • Notable exceptions to the rule that two-letter acronyms use periods: AP (Associated Press), GI (Army-related), ID (identification), EU (European Union).
  • Capitalize only the first letter or abbreviations and acronyms longer than five letters unless Webster capitalizes them. (To be honest, Webster capitalizes most of the famous ones, like UNESCO).
  • Unusually capitalized acronyms: dpa (Deutche Presse-Agentur GmbH), app (application), MiG (Russian fighter plane).
  • Do not abbreviate: associate, association, assistant, government, governor general, hertz (but, for kilohertz/megahertz, kHz/MHz are acceptable on second use), horsepower, International Space Station (i.e., don’t use ISS), justice of the peace, U.S. Marines (don’t use USMC), professor, route, terrace.

Scientific Names

  • Scientific names: Spell out genus/species on first use, then abbreviate the genus: Canis lupus; C. lupus.
  • The genus is in uppercase, the species in lowercase.

Academic Matters

Academic Titles

  • Avoid abbreviations after people’s names: John Smith, M.Sc., who has a master’s in business administration.
  • Use abbreviations after people’s names if doing otherwise would be very cumbersome (e.g., if listing lots of people or in a table).
  • Use abbreviations only after a full name, never after just a surname.
  • Use Dr. in front of someone’s name who has a medical qualification, but only on the first mention.
  • Don’t use Dr. for non-medical qualifications: Jane Smith, who has a doctorate in Spanish literature, will be joining us later.
  • Professor: Never abbreviate. Lowercase before a name (except Professor Emeritus).

Courses and Departments

  • Capitalize course titles and use Arabic numbers after them: Biology 104. Otherwise put into sentence case: he had an interest in biology.
  • Academic departments: Use capitals only for proper nouns or when the department is given its full and proper name: the history department, the department of Spanish literature, University of Oxford English Department.
  • Military academies: retain capitalization even if the “U.S.” is dropped: U.S. Air Force Academy/the Air Force Academy. Lowercase academy on its own.

Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s, master’s degree — but Bachelor of Arts, Master of Science.
  • GED is an adjective, not a noun: GED diploma, for example.

Capitalization

General

  • Avoid unnecessary capitals.
  • Generally, capitalize common nouns when they form part of a formal name or title (the River Nile); mentions not written in full (e.g., the river) would be made in lowercase.
  • Generally, capitalize single nouns when they form part of a formal name/title/designation and lowercase plural (Size 12 but sizes 12 and 14, the Amazon and Nile rivers. The exception is formal titles + full names: Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
  • Similarly: Chapter 3/next chapter; Channel 4/the other channel; the U.S. Census/census data; Captain Jones/the team captain etc.
  • Capitalize words that are derived from a proper noun and still depend on it for their meaning: Christian, French, Marxist.
  • Lowercase words that are derived from a proper noun but no longer depend on it for their meaning: french fries, venetian blind, epicurean.

The Arts and Architecture

  • Buildings: Only capitalize “building” if it’s a part of the building’s name: the Shard building; the Empire State Building.
  • Artistic/literary/dramatic works: Go in AP Style title case. See References in the Punctuation section.
  • Lowercase art styles (impressionism, modernism, cubism).
  • Capitalize artistic periods (Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque).

Business

  • Capitalize brand/product names used in common parlance: Mace, Frisbee, Breathalyzer etc. Lowercase those that have now become common terms (e.g., linoleum). There are no instructions to say exactly how AP determines which is which.
  • Use lowercase at all times for terms that are job descriptions rather than formal titles: the vice president of the company vs. Vice President Jones.
  • Lowercase annual meeting.
  • Capitalize the first letter of brands/products when they begin a sentence (e.g., iPhone/IPhone).

Military

  • Capitalize Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, National Guard when referring to the U.S. versions, lowercase for other nations’ equivalents unless it’s part of their formal name.
  • U.S. Civil War: Capitalize Union and Confederacy.

Geography

  • North/South/East/West: Lowercase compass directions (he went north), capitalize compass directions when they relate to regions (the travelers from the East were weary; he had a Northern accent).
  • However, lowercase compass directions when describing an area of a specific country/state, unless it’s part of that country’s/state’s actual name (northern France; western Montana; Northern Ireland; West Virginia; Southern California).
  • Earth: capitalize for the proper name of the planet, lowercase in all other instances.

Governance and Legislation

  • Government: Always lowercase, never abbreviate: the U.S. government.
  • Constitutions: U.S. Constitution/the Constitution; e.g., French Constitution/the constitution (for constitutions of other countries); the organization’s constitution. Lowercase constitutional in all cases.
  • House of Representatives: Capitalize, even when not given in full (the House decided). Same with U.S. Chamber of Commerce/the Chamber.
  • Don’t capitalize “primary” in e.g., the New Hampshire primary.
  • Tea party (lowercase for the movement generally). Capitalize when part of a group name.
  • U.S. Courts: First reference e.g., U.S. Court of Appeals, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit all acceptable. Subsequent references: the Court of Appeals, the 2nd Circuit, the appeals court, the appellate court, the circuit court, the court. The district courts follow a similar approach to capitalization.
  • Grand jury: always lowercase.
  • U.S. Supreme Court/the Supreme Court.
  • British Parliament: House of Commons, House of Lords on first instance, then Commons/Lords or the Commons/the Lords afterward.
  • International Court of Justice on first instance, then international court/world court.
  • In general, capitalize the proper name of non-U.S. legislative bodies (e.g., the Knesset).
  • United Nations: U.N., U.N. General Assembly, U.N. Secretariat, and U.N. Security Council, drop U.N. on second reference. Lowercase the assembly/the council.
  • Words like nationalist, socialist etc are lowercase unless part of a party name.

Collective Nouns and Other Singular/Plural Issues

  • Nouns that denote a unit take singular verbs and pronouns.
  • Plural team/group names and teams/groups with no plural form take plural verbs: the Yankees are winning; the Beatles are famous; Orlando Magic are playing.
  • Single team/group names take singular verbs: Queen was formed in 1970.
  • Couple: in the sense of two people: the couple were married. In the sense of a unit: each couple was asked….
  • Each: takes a singular verb (each of the options is …).
  • Emoji: the word serves as singular and plural.
  • Group: takes the singular.
  • Headquarters: can take singular or plural.
  • Latin words: Latin-root words take the Latin ending (e.g., alumnus/i, medium/a) unless they have taken on English endings by common usage (e.g., syllabuses). Check Webster if unsure.
  • Insignia: same for singular and plural.

Datelines

AP Style datelines are a specific device used by journalists to indicate the location and date of a news story. They appear at the top of articles and take the form detailed below.

Examples

  • KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 2023.
  • COLUMBUS, Ohio, July 4, 2023.
  • LONDON, Sept. 2021.

Foreign Terms

  • Use inverted commas to define foreign terms upon first use: “lunettes,” the French word for eye glasses.
  • If a foreign word has been adopted into English, consider whether it is universally known by the intended audience. If it isn’t, then define as you would a foreign term.
  • Include accent marks/diacritics when using a word in the original language, but remove them when the word is anglicized: Ou est le café? vs. Where is the cafe?
  • Personal names: follow personal preferences, otherwise use the nearest phonetic equivalent in English.
  • Lowercase particles (e.g., de, der, la, le, van, von) in names unless personal preference says otherwise.
  • Vodou/Voodoo: the religious/ritual practice in Haiti and Lousiana, respectively. Avoid using lowercase voodoo e.g., voodoo rituals.

Numbers, Dates, Currency, etc.

General

  • Numbers: spell out millions, billions. In headlines, K, M, B (thousands, millions, billions) are permitted when accompanying a number. No space: 10K, 10M, 10B. Don’t use a hyphen when used adjectivally.
  • Spell out 1-9. Use figures for 10 or above; preceding a unit; when referring to ages of people/animals/events/things; in tables; in statistics; in sequences (Act 3; Size 12; Type 2); in mathematical usage; in military titles (unless they come after the name) and weapon names. 
  • Spell out numbers at the start of a sentence. Years and number/letter combinations can be left as is.
  • Spell out numbers in formal language, rhetorical quotations and figures of speech.
  • Data is (general; data journalism); data are (scientific contexts).
  • Fractions: two-thirds, seven-fifteenths Use decimals for figures over 1, e.g., 1.33, 20.6.
  • Minus signs: Use a hyphen as a minus sign. Spell out when relating to temperature (minus 5 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Plus signs: Use as part of a company/brand name. Otherwise spell out as “plus” (e.g., B-plus grade).
  • Percentages: Use numbers and %, with no space. Spell out zero percent. Spell out at the beginning of a sentence (or, preferably, reword). Spell out percentage point (NB: this is different to percentage).
  • Ordinals: Don’t use superscript, e.g., 10th Ward. Don’t use ordinals in dates.
  • Ranges: repeat the unit symbol, a hyphen or “to” are both acceptable e.g., 12%-14%, $3 million to $5 million.
  • Ratios: the ratio was 3-to-1, a ratio of 3-to-1, a 3-1 ratio (“to” omitted when the number precedes “ratio”).
  • Roman numerals: Use Roman numerals for wars and to establish personal sequence for people and animals: World War I, Native Dancer II, King George V. Also for certain legislative acts (Title IX).

Dates/Times

  • Minutes, seconds, hours: spell out in full.
  • Times: 12 p.m.; 8 o’clock; 10 minutes; 10 seconds; 8 hours (but an eight-hour day). Use noon and midnight in place of 12 p.m./a.m.
  • Days: Don’t abbreviate days of the week unless in a table; when you do, use the three-letter form with no period (Mon, Tue).
  • Months: When used as part of a date, abbreviate , Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. In tables, use three-letter forms for all months, no period.
  • Years: 1920s, ‘95, the ‘80s, 2022-23. It’s OK to start a sentence with a year. Don’t include years when referencing an occurrence in the same year as the story (the pilot will air on 25 February).
  • Centuries: use numbers for 10 and over (10th century; seventh century).
  • Dates: Friday, Sept. 1, 2023; Sept. 1; Sept. 1, 2023; Sept. 2023.
  • Biannual = twice a year; biennial = every two years; bimonthly = every two months; semimonthly = twice a month; biweekly = every two weeks; semiweekly = twice a week.
  • Time zones: include the time zone if the item: involves TV/radio programs (always EDT/EST); has no dateline; is an advisory to editors. Do not convert clock times from other time zones in the U.S. to Eastern time. If there is high U.S. interest in the precise time something happened, add CDT, PST etc. to the local time zone so that readers can determine what time it happened in their equivalent local time. If the time is needed to make sense outside the U.S., provide a conversion to Eastern time in parentheses: … 9 a.m. (3 a.m. EDT).
  • Don’t use today/tomorrow/tonight etc. in news stories; use a day, date, etc. as appropriate. Avoid next/last (e.g., next Monday). 

Temperatures

  • 40 degrees Celsius/40 C; 105 degrees Fahrenheit/105 F; 10 kelvins/10 K.
  • Zero is always spelled out.

Currencies

  • US currency: use e.g., $5, $500, $50,000 (rather than five dollars, five-hundred dollars etc.). For numbers up to $1, use e.g., 5 cents, 97 cents, then e.g., $1.24. For amounts over $1 million, use up to two decimal places as appropriate: $5.25 million; a $100 million budget.
  • Currency conversions: give non-USD amounts in parentheses the first time a currency is mentioned: The company made a profit of $12.5 million (£10.3 million) last year. Use USD after that. Only do so for current amounts, not historical, and note that the conversion is at the current exchange rate, if necessary for clarity). 
  • Non-US dollars: e.g., CA$1 million, HK$250,000.
  • Currencies are given in sentence case (euro, dollar, pound, Canadian dollar, etc.).

Measurements

  • Units: use the system (metric/imperial) most widely accepted in the location of the dateline. Do not use unit symbols except mm in the case of film widths and weapons (a 9 mm pistol).
  • Avoid decimals unless a greater level of precision is necessary. Use up to two decimal places if necessary, except for blood alcohol level and baseball batting averages (these take 3 decimal points). 
  • Measurements: 5 feet 3 inches tall; a 5-foot-3-inch man; 3,000 square feet, 4 miles. Use e.g., 5’3” only in very technical contexts.
  • Tons: There are three types of ton — short ton (2,000 pounds); long/British ton (2,240 pounds); metric ton (1,000 kilograms).
  • Two-by-four (piece of wood). Always spell out.

Miscellaneous

  • Road numbering examples: S. Highway 1, Route 66, Route 3A, Interstate 40 (1-40 subsequently).
  • Votes: 7-3, but a four-vote margin.
  • Serial numbers: Use figures/capital letters, no hyphens or spaces unless absolutely required. Social Security numbers are hyphenated: 123-45-6789.
  • Clothes sizes: size 10 pants; size 12 long; size 6 1/2 shoes; 16 1/2 inch neck, XL sweatshirt
  • Tanks: M-60
  • Telephone numbers: 123-456-7890 (national); 011-44-20-8535-1515 (international — 011 when calling from the U.S., country code, city code (minus the first zero) and telephone number); 800-111-1000 (toll-free numbers); 123-456-7890, ext. 415.
  • Radio/TV programs: Always use Eastern Time, and put EDT/EST after the time, as appropriate.

Inclusive Language

General

  • Avoid tokenism and generalizations, recognize conscious and unconscious biases, avoid placing White/straight/non-disabled as the figurative norm. 
  • Be conscious of who the story uses as expert witnesses, general witnesses, subjects of photos and videos. When covering issues related to marginal groups, home in on individual voices/stories focused on that group. 
  • Recognize the difference between first- and second-hand experiences. 
  • Be careful with the biases indicated by carelessly used language choices. 
  • Make your content accessible (consider text, graphics, video). 
  • Use Plain English.

Disabilities

  • Check whether the individual/group prefers identity first (an autistic person) or person-first (a person with autism) language. Similarly: person with disabilities/disabled person.
  • When preferences can’t be established, use a mixture of person-first and identity-first language.
  • Generally, only mention disabilities and other conditions if it is directly relevant to the story.
  • Avoid e.g., he is battling cancer >> he has cancer; a victim of heart disease >> she has heart disease.
  • Do not use handi-capable, differently abled, physically challenged, handicapped, handicap.
  • Avoid disorder, impairment, abnormality, special (unless part of a technical name for a condition).
  • Refer to a disability only if relevant to the story and a medical diagnosis has been made or the person uses that term to describe themselves.
  • Avoid writing that implies ableism: the belief that the abilities of people who aren’t disabled are superior.
  • Avoid “inspiration porn” that implies that people with disabilities are objects of pity or wonder.
  • Avoid using disability-related words casually or in unrelated situations (e.g., demented, psychotic, lame, blind, retarded, on the spectrum).
  • Don’t use cliches (inspiring, brave etc.)
  • Don’t use dehumanizing mass nouns (the disabled, the blind etc.)
  • Don’t use normal/typical to describe someone who doesn’t have a disability (instead, use nondisabled, those without a disability). Able-bodied should be used only in instances where it has a specific meaning.
  • Avoid the terms high/low functioning; instead, be specific about the condition.
  • Mental illness: as with other disabilities/conditions, be specific; don’t say that someone was “mentally ill,” name their condition. Don’t use words such as demented, psychotic (including outside of a mental-health context). Don’t use terms lightly/casually, e.g., “I’m feeling very OCD.”
  • Neurodiversity, -divergence, -diverse: Use these terms only in quotations.
  • Wheelchair user (not wheelchair-bound or similar). Mention only if relevant to the story.
  • Capitalize “deaf” when used to refer to the Deaf community (check the appropriateness of this term).
  • Depending on individual preference, “dwarf” is acceptable (or person with dwarfism, little person).
  • Autism: don’t use ASD, on the spectrum, Asperger’s syndrome (outside of direct quotes/due to personal preference). Don’t use as a noun (an autistic/autistics) unless it is personal preference.
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease/ALS/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in the U.S. Motor neuron (or neurone) disease outside of the U.S.

Gender

  • Do not presume maleness when constructing a sentence.
  • Do not use e.g., his/her, his or her.
  • Use the gender-neutral “them” when necessary/personal preference/to hide someone’s identity.
  • Where possible, reword sentences to avoid using “they” as an alternative to “his or her.”
  • Be careful when using woman/women and female, as female is seen as purely describing sex, not gender, which can have an effect on representations of gender identity.
  • Use terms that can apply to any gender in general parlance: businessperson, business owner, police officer, city leaders, confidant, workforce.
  • However, avoid torturous constructions like snowperson.
  • It’s alumnus/alumni (male); alumna/alumnae (female); alum/alums (neutral).
  • Hair color: use the adjectives blond, brown (not blonde, brunette).
  • See preferred terms for examples of gendered terms and their alternatives.
  • Do not use the pronoun “her” in reference to nations, ships, storms or voice assistants.
  • The terms “husband” and “wife” are acceptable in any legally recognized marriage. Spouse or partner can be used as gender-neutral options, if requested/preferred.
  • Do not use lady/gentleman as a synonym for woman/man.
  • Pregnant women/girls or women/girls seeking abortions are acceptable phrasings. Use pregnant people if needed to acknowledge transgender or non-binary pregnant people, but don’t use clinical terms like “people with uteruses.”
  • When using “they” as a singular pronoun, explain if it isn’t clear from the context. The singular reflexive “themself” is acceptable.

Race

  • Be careful about using the term “boys” to refer to young Black men or children; use child/teen/youth as appropriate.
  • Never use the N-word (including in this form) except when it is absolutely crucial to the story or an understanding of a news event.

Titles and Names

Titles

  • As a general rule, capitalize titles/roles when applied to a name, not when they are used generally. Imam Shamsi Ali/the imam; Director Diane Carter/the director, Queen Anne/the queen, etc.
  • Legislative titles can sometimes be omitted if the individual is well-known.
  • Don’t use courtesy or honorary titles (as a general rule). Note that surgeons in the U.K. use Mr./Mrs./Ms. instead of Dr.
  • Judge (law): use in front of the judge’s name upon first instance, but not thereafter — federal Judge John Smith; U.S. District Judge John Smith; Chief Judge John Smith. “Justice” is used instead in some jurisdictions.
  • Applicable religious titles: see the guidance on Writing Explained.
  • First lady/first gentleman is always in lowercase.
  • Military titles: See the full guidance on the AP Stylebook blog.
  • Governor: Abbreviate to Gov. in front of someone’s name. Do not abbreviate governor general.
  • Representatives/senators: Rep./Reps., Sen./Sens. Add U.S. or state if necessary to avoid confusion. Only use such titles on first mention. Don’t use Congressman/Congresswoman before a name/as a title.
  • See the Academic Matters section, above, for information about academic titles.

Names

  • Where things are unclear, the individual’s personal preference/usual habits always take precedence.
  • In general, use only last names on second reference (use both names if necessary for clarity). Call children <15 yo by their first name on second reference, unless it’s a serious story such as a murder case. Use your judgment for 16/17 yos.
  • Given name-first (first/subsequent mentions):
    • Arabic: Two/three names on first mention/surname on second.
    • Portuguese: (usually) given name, mother’s surname, father’s surname/father’s surname (but e.g., Canto e Castro if ‘e’ (and) is used).
    • Russian: use the closest phonetic equivalent in English, if available; otherwise spell phonetically.
    • Spanish: (usually) given name, father’s surname, mother’s surname/father’s surname
  • Surname-first (first/subsequent mentions):
    • China: Deng Xiaoping/Deng
    • North Korea: Kim Jong Un/Kim
    • South Korea: Sung Jinwoo/Sung. If given name is hyphenated, second part is lowercase – e.g., Hyo-ri
  • Jesus: Jesus Christ or Christ is acceptable. Pronouns should be in lowercase.
  • Muhammad: Use this spelling in relation to the Prophet Muhammad unless in a title/name of an organization. Prophet is lowercase when used on its own. 

Style

Headlines

  • Match the headline tone to that of the story.
  • Attribute carefully.
  • Consider keywords and SEO.
  • Update online headlines to reflect the latest news, as needed.
  • Headlines go in sentence case (capitalize first word after a colon).
  • Always capitalize the first letter of a headline (consider rewording if e.g., eBay is the first word).
  • Avoid all but universally recognizable abbreviations and acronyms.
  • Put no periods in US/UK/EU/UN when they appear in headlines, and avoid using them in other acronyms.
  • Avoid using state abbreviations in headlines, but if you must, remove periods from those with two capital letters (others retain periods).
  • Use numerals except in casual use or formal names (thousands not 1000s; Big Ten; but Forbes 500).
  • Spell out ordinals under 10, use numerals for over 10 (except eleventh hour).
  • Use single quote marks.
  • Label opinion (Opinion: Headline), analysis (Analysis: Headline) and review (Review: Headline) pieces.
  • Limit headlines to 100 characters.
  • Write headlines for a global audience. Only use locators when it will increase readership, improve SEO, or is needed for clarity.
  • Avoid Co. for company.
  • Fed is acceptable for Federal Reserve.
  • It’s possible to abbreviate millions/billions in headlines: $30M/$5B.
  • Financial quarters: Q3, not 3Q, for example.

In-Line Style Points

  • Watch for sentences with more than one comma or clause. Consider splitting them up.
  • Dashes and semicolons are often an indication that the sentence could be split up.
  • Don’t use cliches, jargon, or bureaucratese.
  • Define terms that could be unfamiliar to readers, or choose simpler terms.
  • Use mostly active voice.
  • Bracket additional information about a noun in commas: John Smith, of New York,; located in Hartford, Connecticut,; Kevin Jones, who has a Ph.D. in aeronautics,”.
  • Jargon: Avoid, unless writing for an audience that would be familiar with the term or phrase.
  • Irrelevance: Avoid tautology and irrelevance: e.g., they went to a local hospital >> they went to a hospital.
  • Euphemisms: avoid euphemisms wherever possible: died rather than passed away; recreational cannabis (for example) rather than adult-use cannabis.
  • Days of the week: Do not use “on” before a day of the week (e.g., the store will open Monday).
  • That, which: Follow Proofed’s approach to that/which.
  • Versus: Spell out versus in longer sentences, vs. in short pithy expressions, v. in court cases.

Age-Related Nouns

  • Embryo: up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Fetus: 10 weeks of pregnancy — birth.
  • Unborn baby: any time from gestation to birth (less clinical than fetus).
  • Infant: up to 12 months old.
  • Boy/girl: from 12 months old — 18 years. Use child/youth/teen if more appropriate.
  • Youth: 13-18.
  • Adult: over 18 years old.

Obscenities, Profanities, Slurs etc.

  • Do not use except in direct speech.
  • Try to describe them rather than use them directly (e.g., a racial/sexist slur).
  • For very offensive language, replace all but the first letter with hyphens, e.g., f—-
  • An alternative is to replace the offensive word with a generic description in parentheses, e.g., (obscenity).
  • Never use the N-word (including in this form) except when it is absolutely crucial to the story or an understanding of a news event.

Quotations

  • Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage.
  • Casual minor slips can be removed using ellipses, but do so with caution.
  • Do not use “sic”. Instead, paraphrase if possible or use the quotation exactly if the quotation is essential.
  • Don’t try to replicate dialect with words such as gonna.
  • When quoting spoken words, present them in the format that reflects AP style, e.g., $20, 1 Church St.. Don’t make any other changes for style, however.
  • Use quotations if they are the best way to convey the text. Often, paraphrasing is preferable.
  • Avoid fragmentary quotations. For cumbersome or awkward speech, leave quotation marks for sensitive or controversial statements that must be shown to come from the speaker.
  • Describe emojis used in text: e.g., … following that with an emoji of a birthday cake.

Third-Party Sources

Consider:

  • Who does the source belong to? Avoid unverified sources.
  • Clearly state the source.
  • How accurate does the source appear to you?
  • Any obvious signs of bias?
  • Be mindful of Photoshop and deepfakes.
  • Use common sense.
  • Jump to Section

Got a high volume of content to edit?

Got a high volume of content to edit?

Let our experts take it off your plate.

Looking For
The Perfect Partner?

Let’s talk about the support you need.

Icon

Book a call with a Proofed expert

Hidden
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.