Small church on fire

Since 1953, journalists, writers and corporate communicators worldwide have relied upon the rules and guidelines of Associated Press (AP) style to standardize published copy. For nearly 70 years, stylistic nuances about capitalization, abbreviation, spelling and numerals have remained relatively steadfast. 

From geopolitics to sports to pop culture, the world at large is immeasurably different from 1953, i.e., times change. And as they do, so do accepted business and political vernacular, terminology, usage and whatever else greater society deems culturally appropriate. I’ve been a staunch defender of AP style for decades. Having said that, I’m absolutely mystified by some AP entries. For instance:

  • Co-worker is hyphenated, yet coworking is not. 
  • “Double e” words such as reelect are no longer hyphenated. 
  • When it comes to people (i.e., not a color palette), Black is capitalized, whereas white is not.
  • They can be used as a singular pronoun.

So just a day shy of my birthday, I enthusiastically registered for Mignon Fogarty’s webinar: Grammar Girl’s Guide to Advanced AP Style. A former journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Fogarty is highly regarded among professional communicators for her mastery of the writing craft. She is a published author and podcast host whose tips are commonly discussed within my field by her nom de guerre, “Grammar Girl.”

Acutely aware of Grammar Girl’s reputation among my copyediting peers, I had high hopes that this webinar would help me. In addition, promotional material (i.e., the webinar’s landing page) for the event touted I’d learn the following:

  • How to use hyphens and dashes properly
  • How to handle terms related to race and gender
  • How to write about crime
  • How to write about homelessness and climate change
  • How to write dates
  • What to do when quotations don’t match AP style

Fogarty opened by stating it’s important to differentiate your messaging — for the right reasons. Using a standardized style is critical for professional communicators of any sized business; if your writing is poor, you’ll quickly stand out.

Any news about hyphens?

Hyphens are a common writing tool, but they can dramatically change a sentence’s meaning depending on their use:

  • A tiny-house fire is not the same as a tiny house fire.
  • You re-cover a chair and recover data.

Apparently, ethnic modifiers aren’t hyphenated anymore:

And I sincerely hope your organization never has to draft copy using the following: layoff (noun); lay off (verb); and lay-off (modifier).

They said what? How to treat quotes

Do not change quotes. If a quote is poorly spoken, it’s OK to paraphrase what the quoted person had said.

Within quotes, use AP style for numbers: (one to nine; 10, 11, etc.) — unless you are quoting a source that was erroneously written. (Smith said, “Jones saved 2 cats.”)

Including dates in your marketing materials

FOR SPECIFIC DATES: Abbreviate longer months (more than five letters), but spell out the other months. (Jan. 2, 2020; March 23, 2022).

BUT FOR MONTHS WITHOUT A DATE: Write it out in full, regardless of which month it is (March 2022; December 2023).

There’s no need to include a year in copy if the event will occur later this year. (I’ve been saying this for years, but it certainly bears repeating.)

Do not include the word “on” if you’re writing about a future event’s date: The webinar will be November 23.

You can begin a sentence with a year: 1986 was a successful year for both the N.Y. Giants and Mets. 
Always include a comma after the year within a sentence: On Jan. 10, 1999, I moved to Philadelphia.

AP style and climate change

Before the webinar, I thought this section may be particularly relevant, as many of our clients are working tirelessly to report on their sustainability and efforts to actively fight climate change. For example, Flowserve has enacted “Diversification, Decarbonization, Digitization,” a three-pronged approach to helping their clients reduce carbon emissions and make a smooth energy transition.

Similarly, Copeland has been an industry leader in the way they’ve communicated the myriad nuances of federal and state legislation as they relate to an eventual goal of “Net Zero” carbon emissions. Their “Greening Of,” “Greening By” and “Greening With” environmental communication pillars are proof of this.

One of the biggest take-aways from the webinar was to not allude or insinuate an organizational act directly affects climate change. Always cite a scientific source.

AP style errors I regularly encounter

  1. Do not hyphenate terms if the first ends in “ly”: We played an evenly split match. (not an evenly-split match)
  2. Spell out numbers one through nine. (Do not use 1, 2, 3, etc.)
  3. Do not use the Oxford comma. I like to read about sports, comics and other forms of entertainment. (Note the lack of a comma after “comics.”)
  4. Do not use postal abbreviations for states. (New York [not NY]; Pennsylvania [not PA])
  5. Know when to use between and among. (We divided the will between the two brothers. But afterward, a fight broke out among three siblings when their estranged sister arrived.)
  6. Be sure to properly acknowledge trademarked terms (but only on first usage).
  7. Time of day should be treated as such: 9 a.m. (not 9:00 a.m., 9 A.M. or 9:00 A.M.)
  8. Fewer and less: Use fewer when you’re discussing something with a quantity; use less when you’re writing about something in bulk. (I have fewer than 10 things in my cart. I’ll have less money tomorrow.)

    Reading this blog, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that the 20th century days when one person could feasibly master every AP stylistic rule are clearly over. If you still are unclear regarding a term’s proper usage, your in-house copy editor can certainly help. But I highly suggest subscribing to AP’s online style guide. Professionally speaking, I find it invaluable.

    Be sure to tell them that Quattro sent you. (I’m still working on trademarking “Grammar Guy.”)