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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. Corporate-speak drives me crazy! You? How do you feel about "role model" used as a verb? – from Sugar Land, Texas on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. Stick with role model (n.). The gerund role modeling works in some phrasing.

Q. In this phrase -- Knowing Dad%uFFFFs death was imminent -- should be uppercase or lowercase? – from Chicago on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. Dad is capitalized only when it substitutes for a name in a form of address: Hi, Dad!

Q. America's railroads are updating signal systems in preparation for positive train control technology, as required by the federal government. I've seen positive train control lowercased and uppercased in various publications. Is it a proper name or a general term? What say you? – from Lincoln, Nebraska on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. The preference in AP stories is lowercase positive train control, or PTC in follow-ups.

Q. Do you use caps on both sides of a hyphen? Web-Based (in a title) and Web-based if term used as a bullet point or at the start of a sentence? – from , Birmingham, Ala. on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. In an AP headline, it's web-based. Capitalize the W as the first word in a headline or bullet point.

Q. Two academic programs are titled "officially" as follows by a university: Urban and Regional Studies, MA; Construction Management, BS. If AP was writing a story about those two programs, would they be referred to as the university's master's program in urban and regional studies and its bachelor's program in construction management? – from Mankato, Minn. on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. Correct.

Q. Is there an apostrophe in Administrative Professionals Day? – from Steamboat Springs, Colo. on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. Based on internet references, no apostrophe in Administrative Professionals Day.

Q. In the following sentence, is the comma after the state name correct? Should the comma always follow the state name, or are there instances where it would be acceptable to leave the comma out. Jeff graduated from Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, in 1975 with a liberal arts degree. – from Charlotte, N.C. on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. The comma after the state name is correct. If the state name in a city-state reference ends a sentence, use a period instead of a comma.

Q. Hi! I am confused about "a while" and "awhile" in the term "been a while." I found an example of "been awhile" in this section confirmed by the AP editor as correct. So I used that spelling and was told by a work colleague that I was wrong. Can you please confirm that "been awhile" is correct? Thank you! – from Akron, Ohio on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. Use awhile for the adverb: He plans to stay awhile. The noun is while: I haven't seen you for a while. While is also a conjunction: The walls are green, while the ceiling is white.

Q. I work for an international company and many times proper nouns contain the symbol %uFFFFt of respect for last names or locations containing %uFFFF example S%uFFFF, Denmark), I have been including that symbol in our global publications. Please let me know what the AP stance is on that. Thanks! Larry O'Reilly, a long time AP user – from Johnstown, Pa. on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. AP doesn't transmit the capitol O with the slash and the lowercase o with a slash. However, we accept that others have the capability to use these letters.

Q. Does an organization have Ends Policies, Bylaws, and a Mission (statement); or ends policies, bylaws, and a mission? – from Montpelier, Vt. on Fri, Aug 26, 2016

A. AP would spell those terms lowercase and without a comma after bylaws in the series.

Q. My class has found conflicting AP entries for Coca-Cola. Is proper reference to the company The Coca-Cola Co. the Coca-Cola Co. Coca-Cola Co. without "the"? Does the way the company name is used make a difference? The sentence we were correcting includes a list of companies. The sentence follows: Olsen cites the national corporations that have regional offices in the community, including Coca-Cola Co., ConAgra Food Inc., Dell Inc., MedLife Inc. and Whirlpool Corp. – from Littleton, Colo. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. The "company names" guidance is that if "The" is part of the formal company name it should be included: The Coca-Cola Co. However, the product names are Coca-Cola and Coke without the capitalized definite article.

Q. Any guidance on "wrist slap"? "Wrist-slap"? – from North Providence, R.I. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. Based on usage in AP news archives, wrist slap is preferred.

Q. It would be much easier for individual newspapers to abide by the Associated Press style rule on "firm" if more stories that move on the AP wires were written correctly. AP says the use of "firm" is pretty much limited to a law or architectural office, yet we routinely see AP stories referring to huge companies and corporations as "firms." Sure, it's dandy for writing a headline in a tight count, but it's ridiculously inaccurate. Can you get the word out at the Associated Press? – from Omaha, Neb. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. Yes, definitely worth a reminder.

Q. Would it be "stop-arm violation" or "stop arm violation" in reference to passing a stopped school bus? – from High Point, N.C. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. AP news archives show a preference for stop arm when the term is used alone in connection with school buses. It shouldn't require a hyphen when used with violations, though some localities seem to favor the hyphenated spelling, based on spellings in some AP stories.

Q. How would you refer to the state a college or university is in? For example, would you say "Syracuse (N.Y.) University" or "Syracuse University, N.Y."? Thank you! – from Alexandria, Va. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. Generally the city-state locality follows the school name: Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

Q. I know that Swiss, as in Swiss cheese, would be capitalized. Would it be capitalized in turkey and swiss as well, when referring to a particular type of sandwich? – from Charlotte, N.C. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. Yes: a turkey and Swiss sandwich.

Q. How should the term "home-gating" (i.e. a tailgating party at home) appear? With a hyphen or not? – from Chicago on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. The term doesn't appear in the AP news archives. Usage on the internet might provide you with guidance.

Q. Good Day, another garden question. When referring to the disease that affects roots, it is "root rot", "root-rot" or "rootrot"? Many thanks again! – from Phoenix on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. AP stories use root rot.

Q. Good Day, we're working on a garden story and would like to know, is the proper terminology for the mass of roots below ground level of a plant spelled "root ball" or "rootball"? It's not anywhere in AP, nor an any of the usual gardening sites agree on a common spelling. Thanks! – from Phoenix on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. It's root ball in AP stories.

Q. Question about punctuating an indirect question within a sentence: What should be of greater concern to the USSF is, How will it address the legal and societal implications of the pay disparity in 2017 and beyond? Comma after the "is" and capitalize "how"? – from Omaha, Neb. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. The "comma" entry says no comma at the start of an indirect or partial quotation.

Q. Can "medicine" be used as a singular or plural? ie., Which is correct: The study will look at medicines that are recommended by the American Diabetes Association. OR The study will look at medicine that is recommended by the American Diabetes Association. – from Bloomington, Minn. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. The study will look at medicines ...

Q. Should hurricane hunters be capped when referring to either the planes or the crews of the planes? – from St. Paul, Minn. on Thu, Aug 25, 2016

A. AP stories generally use lowercase spellings for hurricane hunter aircraft.

Q. What is the style when rounding percentages? If a percentage is 10.575 percent, Do you say 10 percent or 11 percent? Or do you include decimal points. – from Honolulu on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. Probably 10.5 percent to round off. Decimals shouldn't exceed two places in most cases within texts. See "decimal units" for guidelines.

Q. How do website names get styled? "CivilEats" or "Civil Eats" (for civileats[dot]com)? What if their urls don't match their company names, e.g. Dynamo (for WeAreDynamo[dot]com)? Thanks. – from Bainbridge Island, Wash. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. Follow the spelling of the website: ...

Q. Hi, I have an Olympics question (which is a bit late as the Rio Games are already finished), but can I assume, following on from advice here ( that the style for the next games is "2020 Tokyo" and not "Tokyo 2020," despite the local Olympic Organizing Committee naming itself Tokyo 2020 ( – from Tokyo on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. In AP usage, the year precedes the city name in Olympic host reference: 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We avoid the marketing practice of placing the year after the city.

Q. When referring to the FDA's emergency use authorization (EUA) of clinical tests (such as a test for the Zika virus) or a medical device, is the phrase, "emergency use authorization" capitalized or no? – from Rochester, Minn. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. AP stories spell that term lowercase. Rather than using an unfamiliar abbreviation, it's clearer as the authorization on second reference.

Q. How would AP spell the interjection for when something smells bad or stinks? The one that sounds like "pew" or "pyoo." – from Bloomington, Ind. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. Go with the dictionary's spelling: phew.

Q. Do you capitalize city when referring to a specific city like you do City Council when you are referring to a specific City Council on second reference? – from Pekin, Ill. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. Yes, see the "city council" entry for guidance.

Q. AP style says to retain British spelling in to match formal British titles (e.g., Regional Resource Centre for Asia and the Pacific), but to use American spelling in general usage. What if the formal title and generic usage are in close proximity? For example: The Regional Resource Centre is a center/centre of global activity... – from Chevy Chase, MD on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. Try a synonym for the generic reference: hub, nucleus or focal point.

Q. We're debating the proper preposition (if any) to use in this phrase: " make your experience in working with ABC exceptional." " make your experience working with ABC exceptional." " make your experience of working with ABC exceptional." Which one is correct? – from Washington on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. I'd opt for the second.

Q. Hi, The George Washington Univeristy captitalizes "The" in its name. Should that be retained? For example: "...she is a professor at The George Washington Univeristy" or "...she is a professor at George Washington University." Thank you. – from Washington on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. AP doesn't use the capitalized article for schools: ... she is a professor at George Washington University.

Q. How would we hyphenate a two-word state that is part of a compound modifier? For example, "New Jersey-based nonprofit" versus "New-Jersey-based nonprofit." – from Sacramento, Calif. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. The first is correct: New Jersey-based nonprofit.

Q. What's the style for counter space and countertop? One word or two? – from Portland, Ore. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. AP news stories prefer countertop, counter space.

Q. When you are writing about the floors of a building, should you use "third" or "3rd"? – from MARION, Ark. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. It's third floor, forth floor, etc., spelling ordinals under 10th.

Q. In the following sentence, is the use "their" correct? Or, should the sentence be reworked to avoid confusion with subject and verb agreement. Every one of our clients receives a customized program that meets their unique facility and budget needs, allowing you and your administration to focus on your core task of education. – from Charlotte, N.C. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. Drop "their" and substitute "the" for the second "your": Every one of our clients receives a customized program that meets unique facility and budget needs, allowing you and your administration to focus on the core task of education.

Q. How do you write 3 and a half hours? What is spelled out and what isn't? Are there hyphens anywhere? – from West Palm Beach, Fla. on Wed, Aug 24, 2016

A. Use numerals for the mixed number: We needed 3 1/2 hours to drive home.

Q. helping provide or helping to provide? – from Winter Park, Fla. on Tue, Aug 23, 2016

A. The second is preferred.

Q. Can you start a headline with a numbers? Example: 872 citations for seat belt, child restraint in July – from Grafton, N.D. on Tue, Aug 23, 2016

A. Yes. The "headlines" entry says use numerals in headlines for all but casual uses, such as the word hundreds.

Q. The examples for using numbers does not give an example for "length of time" in years vs. age, that I could find. Would this "5" be spelled out, since it is below 10, or should I use a number: "Once we identify those partnerships greater than five years, ......" – from Lake Mary, Fla. on Tue, Aug 23, 2016

A. In AP usage, years under 10 in that context are spelled out: five years. However, use figures for ages: a 5-year-old girl and a boy, 7.

Q. Is it "SoCal" or "So Cal" and is it correct to lowercase "chief physician executive" in this example: He accepted the position of chief physician executive for the SoCal service area. – from Riverside , Calif. on Tue, Aug 23, 2016

A. It's Southern California as a region. The title is correctly spelled lowercase.

Q. Principle Display Panel (front label) requirements: Should this be Principal rather than Principle? What message do your current offerings send to your employees? Should this be "What message does your current offering send to your employees?" – from Charlotte, N.C. on Tue, Aug 23, 2016

A. It's principal display panel. What message does ...

Q. do you lowercase titles after name – from , on Tue, Aug 23, 2016

A. Correct, with only a few exceptions such as CEO.

Q. I am an EPA employee working on putting content up for the public website. Is there a certain citation format for citing research articles on a public EPA web page? – from RTP, North Carolina on Mon, Aug 22, 2016

A. This website should be of assistance:

Q. What is the correct usage for MRE, Meals Ready to Eat? – from Gainesville, Fla. on Mon, Aug 22, 2016

A. Generally AP stories precede the abbreviation with a brief definition: They sent military field rations, known as MRE or meals ready to eat, to the disaster zone.

Q. Good Day, One of our writers submitted a story listing some specific breeds of dog; one is called a Cane Corso. I have searched both the AP Stylebook and Webster's for this particular breed, but have come up with no answer. My question is, is this particular breed name capitalized or not? Thanks for your help! – from Phoenix on Mon, Aug 22, 2016

A. According to the "animals" entry, breed names derived from proper nouns are capitalized. That's not the case with cano corso. However, this breed is also known as Italian mastiff, spelled with a capital I.

Q. When referring to the A enclosed with a circle that's called the anarchy symbol, should "anarchy" be upper or lower case? – from Williston, N.D. on Mon, Aug 22, 2016

A. Use the capital A in your description.

Q. Please solve some confusion we are having. I understand that with "wide" at the end of a word, it becomes one word, such as citywide and statewide. Would the same be true with agency, as in agencywide? – from Zionsville , Ind. on Mon, Aug 22, 2016

A. Correct, though there are other ways to put it, such as throughout the agency.

Q. "When preparing a list of businesses, should those that include "the" in the title such as "The Ark" or "The Arts Alliance" be listed under "t" or "a"?" – from Ann Arbor, MI on Mon, Aug 22, 2016

A. List those under A as The Ark, The Arts Alliance. You can see a few examples of businesses with the definite article in the list of 125 major U.S. corporations under the "company names" entry.

Q. Should it be "the Obama public schools' bathroom directive" or schools without the the s-apostrophe? – from Los Angeles, California on Mon, Aug 22, 2016

A. As written in an AP story: The Obama administration's directive that public schools allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity.

Q. Our collection boasts nearly 400,000 books, dvds, audiobooks, music cds and magazines%uFFFF Which is correct: DVDs or dvds? CDs or cds? – from Franklin, Ind. on Mon, Aug 22, 2016

A. By the Stylebook's guidance, DVDs, CDs.

Q. A question about a profanity that isn't covered in your Profanities section: Is "son of a bitch" considered a profanity, or can we spell it out in all references (in quoted material)? – from Tokyo on Sun, Aug 21, 2016

A. Yes, it comes under the guidance in "obscenities, profanities, vulgarities."

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