Ask the Editor

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Ask the Editor provides answers, clarification and guidance on style issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. Before posing a question to AP editor David Minthorn, search the accompanying style archives for your topic. With thousands of questions and answers on file, your topic has very likely been covered. For typical style questions and responses, visit Ask the Editor FAQ.

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Ask the Editor questions from the past week:

Q. I want to verify whether the information our business writer told me is accurate. He said carmakers such as KIA are referred to as Original Equipment Manufacturers because they assemble parts to make complete cars. He also said Samsung Electronics is an OEM of mobile phones. I was under the impression that OEMs only manufacture parts for other companies that use those parts to make a finished product. So I'm wondering, Is what my coworker told me correct? – from Virginia, XX on Sun, Sep 21, 2014

A. IBM's definition of original equipment manufacturer or OEM. A manufacturer of equipment that may be marketed by another manufacturer. Check the term online for elaboration.

Q. What are the style rules for academic class titles? Is a class titled: rainforest exploration written: "Rainforest Exploration"? Should we follow the rules for composition titles? – from Ashland, Ore. on Sun, Sep 21, 2014

A. You could capitalize the formal name of an academic course, though it wouldn't be enclosed in quotes. The Stylebook's "course numbers" entry provides some guidance.

Q. I am reading a business article and it has a Moody's Investor Services rating in quotation marks 'Aa1' is this correct? – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Sun, Sep 21, 2014

A. In AP business stories, Moody's ratings generally aren't enclosed in quotes: Aa1.

Q. Would you please revisit the question of Smartboard (see April 2007 Ask the Editor entry). It seems that SMART Board is a product name with a registered trademark, but how should we refer to the technology generically? Perhaps smartboard or smart board similiar to smartphone? Many thanks! – from Hickory , N.C. on Sun, Sep 21, 2014

A. News stories have used smartboard as a generic term for the technology.

Q. Is a comma necessary after the year in the following sentence: The last 20 surveys were completed in December 2012 and focused specifically on panel members who selected contractors. – from Colorado Springs, Colo. on Sat, Sep 20, 2014

A. No comma after 2012.

Q. I submitted a question to Ask the Editor, and I received an email with this copy: Your question has been submitted to Ask the Editor. This issue may have come up previously in this AP online forum. For a faster response and to avoid repetitions, try a keyword search of the Q&A's using either the category list archive or the chronological archive. Thanks for your interest. Shouldn't it be "Q&As" and not "Q&A's"? Thank you. – from Chicago on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. Use 's for plurals of single letters. See the SINGLE LETTERS section of the Stylebook's "plurals" entry.

Q. In the Headlines section, it says, "Quotes. Always use single quotation marks." I'd like to understand why the AP has taken this position. Can you please explain why deviate from standard single- and double-quotation mark rules just for headlines? Thank you. – from Chicago on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. Single quotes in headlines are a longtime standard in print journalism. Single quotes take less space, particularly in tight columns, so that may be the origin of the practice.

Q. Should we use "top flight" or "top-flight"? – from DEL MAR, Calif. on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. Hyphenate top-flight (adj.) as in the dictionary.

Q. Should Vacation Bible School be capitalized? – from Hudson, Ohio on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. In the generic term, only Bible is capitalized. But if a church or other religious institution conducts it, Vacation Bible School may well be capitalized as the formal name bestowed by the organizers.

Q. It's slang. A mash-up of words to make a phrase, but is there a standard spelling for: fugetaboutit? – from West Palm Beach, Fla. on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. The standard spelling is forget about it.

Q. Hi AP, the AIDS entry says: It is caused by human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Does this mean that editors can choose either/or in stories, or that HIV should be spelled out on first reference? Many thanks. – from Chicago on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. HIV is acceptable on first reference.

Q. I'm having some trouble understanding hyphens. Can you tell me if these phrases should be hyphenated (and why / why not)? Thanks! "Services include event content generation" (event-content generation?) and "This customer is a creative content provider" (creative-content provider?). – from Chicago on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. Consider the terms noun phrases without hyphens. However, you could rephrase to make them less like jargon: Services include designing content for events. This customer provides creative content.

Q. "saferoom" or "safe room"? as in somewhere people would seek shelter from a storm. – from Shelbyville, Ky. on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. AP stories prefer safe room, two words.

Q. What is the correct what to introduce a "case in point"? Would it be: "Case in point is when..." or "A case in point is when..." or "Case in point: When So and So did..."? – from Washington on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. Any of your examples would work. Alternatively, begin with the example and end the sentence or phrase with ... is a case in point.

Q. I am working on a report and am confused if I should capitalize Master's of Public Health and Bachelor in Public Health. The bullet points in the report are: Number of graduates with a Master's of Public Health working in public health... Number of graduates with a Bachelor in Public Health working in public health... Also should this be Bachelor's? Thank you. – from Jefferson City, Mo. on Fri, Sep 19, 2014

A. ... Master's of public health ... Bachelor's in public health ...

Q. When a number (the example that came up today was the price gap between preferred stock and common stock) rises to the lowest mark or highest mark since data has been collected, is it correct to refer to this as a record high or record low, when we don't know if numbers before data started being collected were higher or lower? I know that in the body I can provide clarification such as a record low since data has been collected, but for the headline and possibly the lead, I wonder if it's OK to simply say "rises to record high." Thank you. – from Virginia, XX on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. Ask the corporation for the historical figures, and attribute any numbers or information to that source.

Q. This is a question about same-sex marriage, specifically "legalize" vs. "recognize." We have an editor who says gay marriage isn't illegal, it's just not recognized everywhere in the United States, and therefore stories shouldn't refer to efforts to legalize gay marriage. That doesn't sound correct to me. If two women cannot walk into their county clerk's office and get a license to be married, then in my view their union is not legal in the eyes of their state. Any guidance? – from Vancouver, Wash. on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. A recent AP story included this background: Same-sex couples can legally wed in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Bans that have been overturned in some other states continue to make their way through the courts. ... Fifteen months ago, the high court struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied a range of tax, health and veterans benefits to legally married gay couples. Rulings invalidating state gay marriage bans followed in quick succession.

Q. Is it correct to say "PO Box customers" in a sentence that doesn't mention the PO Box number? – from San Francisco on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. P.O. box customers.

Q. When presenting information about various volumes in cubic centimeters, is it proper to use cc's when abbreviating? – from Johnston, Iowa on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. Spell out the first usage, then use cc with a space between the figure and abbreviation.

Q. Can you please confirm how to use the Halloween terms trick or treat, trick-or-treating, trick-or-treater, etc.? Thank you! – from Los Angeles on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. AP follows the dictionary spellings: trick or treat, trick-or-treating, trick-or-treater.

Q. three top 5 albums or three top-five albums? Numeral or spell out? – from Chicago on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. Spell out.

Q. In the question below, AP recommends "the 5-foot-2-inch woman" per the example guidelines in "dimensions." Per the example guidelines in "numeral," the recommendation prefer "the 5-foot-2 woman" with the explanation "'inch' is understood." Should "-inch" and "-inch-tall" be always omitted? -Peter Q. I am reading the section on dimensions and I'm wondering how we would write someone's height if she is 5 feet 2 inches, should we write 5-foot 2 or 5-foot-2-inch-tall woman? %uFFFD from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Tue, Jun 17, 2014 A. Per the example guidelines in "dimensions," the 5-foot-2-inch woman. – from Bellevue, Wash. on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. From the Dimensions section of the "numerals" entry: Examples: He is 5 feet 6 inches tall, the 5-foot-6 man ("inch" is understood), the 5-foot man, the basketball team signed a 7-footer.

Q. In an always-on, always-connected world. Do I need the hyphens? – from San Antonio on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. Correct.

Q. Hello. How would you write "a drugmaker that makes generic drugs": "generic-drug maker," "generic-drug-maker" or something else? Thanks. – from Tustin, Calif. on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. The Stylebook spelling is drugmaker, so the first is correct.

Q. What dateline should be used when reporting from Native American property? We have two Native American tribes nearby. One owns sovereign land and we typically refer to this at ONONDAGA NATION in datelines. The other tribe owns land, but it is not sovereign. Should we use CAYUGA NATION for that property, or should we use the name of the township? – from , Syracuse, N.Y. on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. AP may use this dateline format when reporting from Native American lands: ST. REGIS INDIAN RESERVATION, N.Y. (AP) ... So we use reservation rather than nation if it applies as a location.

Q. Does AP have a preference for either "convert into" or "covert to" (e.g. an annuity)? One source says, "Convert into means to change from one thing to another; convert to means to switch allegiance, loyalty, or obligation." Thanks. – from Topeka, Kan. on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. Better run that by financial experts. While AP stories on annuities have used either term, there may be nuances of meanings to consider in specific contexts.

Q. I am looking for the correct way to spell mic'd. The sentance is "... which records a mic%uFFFDd, one-camera video of HD quality footage." I cannot find anything on this here or in M-W. – from Washington on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. The informal term for microphone is mic (n.), as noted in the AP Stylebook entry. Webster's also lists mike (n.) informal and the verb forms miked, miking. We defer to the dictionary on the verbs.

Q. Are the commas before the quotes (below) unnecessary? Or are they a courtesy to readers? ... the natural response was either, "Oh, so you want to go to law school?" or the more befuddled, "So what do you want to do with your life?" – from Carlisle, Pa. on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. The commas are needed. The guideline is INTRODUCING DIRECT QUOTES in the "comma" entry of the Stylebook's Punctuation Guide

Q. Do you have any guidelines for how to report on concurrent sentences in a criminal trial? – from New York on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. Example from an AP story earlier this week: Jones says Davis' three-year sentence will be served concurrently with a 39-month federal firearms sentence that he was given in late August.

Q. Good morning. I'm following up on your response to my question about abbreviating --South-- and using a period in a street name that follows the numbered portion of an address. You had said to use periods with abbreviations of compass points and quadrants in numbered address. However, previous style entries say that we should not use periods with the names of quadrants unless local custom requires them. Has AP guidance changed? Again, please advise. Thank you! – from Kansas City, Mo. on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. The quadrant examples -- NW, SE -- are two-letter abbreviations and clear without periods. For a one-letter quadrant abbreviation, be guided by the other examples that use periods: 222 E. 42nd St., 562 W. 43rd St.

Q. Nonbank with no hyphen, correct? Is there a more acceptable term for financial services firms that don't accept or insure deposits? – from Washington on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. AP business stories use the term nonbank financial companies, so it's widely understood.

Q. Name has two initials and last name. Would there be a space between initials" – from Indianapolis on Thu, Sep 18, 2014

A. Using the model of the "initials" entry, periods and no space with the letters, assuming the individual has no other preference.

Q. First reference for EMV technology please: Europay, MasterCard and Visa; Europay-MasterCard-Visa; Europay/MasterCard/Visa. – from Madison, Wis. on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. EMV technology on first reference, defined as chips embedded in credit cards to make them more secure. In a follow-up, the credit card companies involved may be named.

Q. is it as good of a chance or as good a chance when writing in AP style ? – from Fairborn, Ohio on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. In AP usage, of may be dropped from such phrases.

Q. Does AP have a standard for when an election is a "landslide". For example: a 51 percent election victory is not a landslide, but an 80 percent win is. – from Washington on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. By dictionary definition, an election landslide is an overwhelming majority for a candidate or party. By most standards, that would be at least a 6 percent or 7 percent margin.

Q. Hello, what is the style for the military unit in the U.S. Army that deals with artillery. Is it fires brigade or Fires Brigade? And is FiB an acceptable acronym for it on subsequent references? – from Virginia, XX on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. Capitalized with a unit number: 17th Fires Brigade, 45th Fires Brigade. I haven't seen the abbreviation used in AP stories. It's probably not well-known outside the military. Better spell the term for clarity.

Q. To start a sentence, is it "On Wednesday," or is it "Wednesday,"? – from New York on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. The first is customary.

Q. Is it OK to say a building is ADA-accessible? – from St. Paul , Minn. on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. On first reference, it's the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Rather than the hyphenated term in a follow-up, alternative phrasing might say that the building complies with ADA access guidelines.

Q. My Farm Credit colleagues and I were pondering whether to use figures or spell out numbers when using acres. It's also a discussion we often had in newsrooms when I worked for newspapers. I see on the Ask the Editor FAQs page that acres take figures, but it's not spelled out in the print edition of the stylebook. Can we make a plea for indicating that acres take figures in print edition under the acres, numerals and dimensions entries? For example, the dimensions entry refers to length, width, height and depth, but not to area, such as 1 acre. – from Austin, Texas on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. Confirming numerals for acreage, including 1 acre. We'll look into adding the example.

Q. Would the Twin Cities region be capitalized in a story? (The Twin Cities refers to the urban area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul in Minnesota) .. Thank you! – from Uniondale, New York on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. In AP stories from Minnesota, it's Twin Cities region or metro region.

Q. In reference to countries in the Americas that are former colonies of Spain or Portugal, is it Ibero America, Iberoamerica, or Ibero-America? – from Washington, D.C. on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. Instead of that term, the Stylebook recommends Latin America for countries in the area of the Americas south of the U.S. where Romance languages derived from Latin are dominant.

Q. Is it Q&As or Q&A's or Q & A's? – from McLean, Va. on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. Q&A's for the plural abbreviation.

Q. Is it cabin closeup? Or cabin close-up? – from St. Paul , Minn. on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. See Stylebook entry: close-up (n. and adj.)

Q. Is it Energy Star%uFFFDrated in something like "The products are Energy Star%uFFFDrated?" Or no hyphen? – from NYC on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. Energy Star-rated, or Energy Star ratings with the actual number of stars per object.

Q. Hello, My client has used the phrase "tall, thin male adolescents," and I believe it should be "tall, thin adolescent males," but I can't find support for my position. Which should it be? Thanks. – from Huntingtown, MD on Wed, Sep 17, 2014

A. Either is correct because the term has two forms. In the first example, use adolescents for the noun. In the second example, use adolescent for the adjective.

Q. For headlines, does a foreign minister count as a "top diplomat"? The foreign minister is meeting with another country's ambassador, so I want to refer to both as "top diplomats" – from Tokyo on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. That works for a headline.

Q. I am a mass communication instructor at the University of Central Oklahoma. I have reviewed both the headline rule and U.S. rule in the stylebook. I am still unclear on how to write U.S. Census Bureau in a headline -- do I include the periods or write the headline as "US Census Bureau redesigns website" ... your response is appreciated. Thank you! Lorene – from Edmond, Okla. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. It's US without periods in a headline: US Census Bureau or US Census or simply Census: ...

Q. Which is correct in questions: "what" or "which"? Example: Which ( or what) leadership skills am I lacking?" And "Which (or what) assignments will equip me for what I need right now"? Thank you. – from Los Angeles on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. What leadership skills am I lacking? Which assignments will equip me for what I need right now?

Q. I know that AP prefers jihadi, but it appears that internationally, some news sources are referring to jihadism. What is AP's stance on the use of this term? Should it be used or should it be modified so jihadi can be used: for example, "the effects of jihadism's rise in power" replaced by "the effects of the jihadis rise in power"? – from Brooklyn, N.Y. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. Haven't seen this formation used in AP stories. The Arabic noun jihad seems sufficient. See the "jihad" entry for elaboration.

Q. Are El Grito de Independencia and El Grito de Delores interchangable? – from Austin, Texas on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. The terms coincide. There may be nuances you could check with experts on the history of Mexico.

Q. Is debuted a word, as in past tense of debut? – from Chesterfield Townshi, MI on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. Yes, use debuted for the past tense.

Q. If a professor emeritus dies, do you then call him deceased professor emeritus ... – from La Jolla, Calif. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. The late Professor Emeritus John Smith.

Q. Is a doctorate considered a graduate degree? – from Phoenix , Ariz. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. Correct.

Q. Don Mason, assistant business editor, Houston Chronicle Did AP rescind this year's rule change requiring that state names be spelled out? I recall that it did, but am not finding that in the Stylebook or Ask the Editor archives. – from Houston on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. AP spells out state names in conjunction with localities if they differ from the city-state abbreviation in a dateline. See "datelines" and "state names" for elaboration.

Q. I see in Webster's new world that "wholly-owned" is an entry. But I have always followed AP style of not hyphenating -ly adverbs. I also saw you cite this "rule" in another "Ask the Editor" entry. So in "a wholly owned subsidiary" should I hyphenate or not? – from Indianapolis on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. No hyphen in wholly owned per the Stylebook's "-ly" entry guidance.

Q. When using the term LAN (local area network), the AP entry says, "Acronym acceptable on first reference but spell out in copy." Does this mean that LAN can be used as a stand-alone acronym in the body of a release or does it need to be spelled out either on first reference or in parenthesis after the acronym (again, on first reference)? Also, what is the verdict on USB? Does it need to be spelled out on first reference or is it okay by itself? Both are relatively common acronyms... – from Albany, N.Y. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. LAN may be used on first reference within a story, but the term should be spelled out on a subsequent usage. Don't enclose the abbreviation in parentheses. USB is OK as an abbreviation in all uses.

Q. Is western capitalized when referring to "Western culture?" – from Nashville, Tenn. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. Usually capitalized in the context of history, culture and social norms of countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Q. Should 'year to date' be hyphenated? For example, "take a peek at current year-to-date stats." – from Dallas on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. Yes, as modifier preceding a noun: year-to-date sales. It's often written without hyphens in other uses: in the year to date.

Q. Should it be agency-wide or agencywide? Also, It is nonmotorized or non-motorized? – from St. Paul , Minn. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. It's agencywide and nonmotorized or not motorized.

Q. IN the Cloud or On the Cloud? – from Poolesville, MD on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. Preference seems to be in the cloud, with a lowercase c.

Q. Does AP use "CalPERS" or "CalPers"? Thanks – from Flagstaff, Ariz. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. It's CalPERS in AP stories from the state.

Q. Should I abbreviate South as S. in 123 Wood St., South? The address in question contains a city, state and ZIP code. I looked in the entry for addresses as well as the Ask the Editor submissions, but I didn't see an example like this one. Please advise. Thank you much. – from Kansas City, Mo. on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. Yes, per the "addresses" guidance to abbreviate compass points to indicate directional ends of streets or quadrants of a city in a numbered address.

Q. I'm quoting from an Audobon Socity report that capitalizes bird names (e.g. Brown Pelican, California Gull, and so on). Should I retain the upper case in quoted material? – from Tokyo on Tue, Sep 16, 2014

A. In AP usage, capitalize the proper noun parts of bird names: brown pelican, California gull, American bald eagle, etc.

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