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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. Does use of the word lax demonstrate an opinion by the writer? – from Chevy Chase, MD on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. It might unless there's direct attribution or the term is used to summarize information from an individual in a position to know.

Q. Following up to the question about capitalizing transportation network company -- In part the response was TNC may be used in follow-ups, but not enclosed in parentheses. Does this mean on first reference we should not include (TNC) after spelling out transportation network company? (i.e., Would this be wrong? "If you work for a transportation network company (TNC), you should ...") I checked the acronyms/abbreviations entry and the second reference entry but can't determine what's correct. – from Seattle on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Do not include TNC in parentheses or set off by dashes after spelling out the term, as explained in AVOID AWKWARD CONSTRUCTIONS section of the "parentheses" entry.

Q. When free agent is used as an adjective, should it be hyphenated? Ex: The free agent shooting guard is looking to sign with a playoff contender. – from Seoul, XX on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. No hyphens in free agent shooting guard.

Q. What is AP style for using the plural form a singular word, namely "yes" and "no"? For example: "How did you turn those nos into yeses?" Is that spelling corrent? – from Washington D.C., N.Y. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Go with the dictionary plurals: noes, yeses.

Q. Is it Bond girl or Bond Girl for the actresses who have had starring roles in the long-running series of James Bond movies? – from Charlotte, N.C. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. In AP stories, Bond girl.

Q. Would AP capitalize Transportation Network Company, as in "If you work for a Transportation Network Company (TNC), you should ..."? For reference, it is the "ride sharing" industry that companies like Uber and Lyft belong. – from Seattle on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. AP stories lowercase transportation network company or companies. The abbreviation TNC may be used in follow-ups, but not enclosed in parentheses.

Q. In an event program, we have two special sessions for first-time attendees. First Timers Breakfast and First Timers Reception. Possessive or not? Thanks! – from Reston, Va. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. These are descriptives rather than possessives, spelled as you have them.

Q. Whale watching or whalewatching? – from Seaside, Calif. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. In AP stories, whale watching.

Q. We are a school and are renaming our parent teacher association. We are the Saints, so the new name is going to be Saints Spirit. Should it be Saints' Spirit or just Saints Spirit? Thank you for your help! – from suffolk, Va. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Leave the group name as a descriptive: Saints Spirit.

Q. If I am referring to history and the siege of a town, would it be the Siege of Boston or the siege of Boston? – from Farmington, Maine on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. The British siege of Boston during the Revolutionary War.

Q. Is it permissible to use the phrase "swipe logs," or "swipe card records" to describe the used of a plastic card with magnetic properties to activate a door lock or raise a parking garage gate, or is another description preferred? – from Mason, Ohio on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. AP stories have used swipe card records.

Q. A baseball player is sometimes designated for assignment, often abreviated DFA. In the sentence "John Smith was DFA'd", what is the correct form for the past tense of the abreviation? Thank you. – from St. Paul, Minn. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. Written out as designated for assignment. The abbreviation DFA is used in headlines. The past tense in a quoted sentence could be DFA'd.

Q. When used as a unit of measurement, can "gallon" be abbreviated as "gal."? If so, is it with or without a period? – from Bloomington, Ind. on Thu, Aug 28, 2014

A. AP spells out gallon, with the exception of mpg, acceptable in all references for miles per gallon.

Q. The company's first overseas business (is/was) an organic food store, launched in 2010. Which is correct? is or was – from Virginia, XX on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Using was and first suggests that the company has added additional overseas enterprises since 2010.

Q. Ice bucket challenge - uppercase or lowercase? – from Crete, Neb. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. It's lowercase.

Q. Is within capitalized in a title? – from San Francisco on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Capitalized as a principal word. See "composition titles" for the guidance.

Q. Should a comma be used when a business name that includes Inc. is part of the sentence? For instance, in the following sentence should there be a comma after the period? "Harcourt, Inc., was awarded the contract." – from , Loma Linda, Calif. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. No, don't set off Inc. with commas in a corporate name. See the Stylebook's "incorporated" entry.

Q. In a Web-based training we include in the second slide a list of acronyms and their meanings. Would that qualify as first reference? – from Jacksonville, Fla. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Evidently the meanings explain the acronyms, so that should work.

Q. In an article title referencing a government official, how could I word the title for this individual? "Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs provided insight..." Or would it be correct to say "DoD official provided insight..." – from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. It's a long title, so you might use a shorthand form on first reference, such as a Defense Department or Pentagon official said XYZ. On second reference, use the name and title in apposition: John Doe, assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, ....

Q. Q: We're a publication that covers transportation and the term "downspeed" is frequently used. Wondering whether this is under the AP prefix rule? Or, should it be down-speed (rather than creating a word)? Thanks much. -- from Arlington, Va. – from Arlington, Va. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. The term downspeed is occasionally used in AP stories about sailing races, such as downspeed tack. The one-word spelling should also be correct in transportation contexts.

Q. Any AP style guidelines on shortening agricultural to Ag, ag or AG? We use the term often in quotes and content for farming-related stories. – from Elkton, Md. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. AP stories related to farming frequently used ag in headlines. An example: 17 ag operations in Virginia get federal funds. Within a text, the abbreviation might appear in a quote or in a shorthand term related to agriculture.

Q. Can you clarify the use of commas around time zone abbreviations? I understand not to set off abbreviations with commas, but should one be included between the time zone abbreviation and the day? Examples: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday; or 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST Monday through Friday. – from Louisville, Kentucky on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. The day usually precedes the time in AP usages, with the hours preceded by a comma: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. EST.

Q. is it "the 30-credit-hour program" or "the 30-credit hour program"? Assume it can't be rewritten. – from Saint Louis, Mo. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Make it plural without hyphens: the 30 credit hours program.

Q. Is it proper to use a date to begin a sentence? For example: Oct. 27, the company will host an employee picnic. Or, is it preferable to either use "on" prior to the date at the beginning of a sentence or move the date. For example: The company will host an employee picnic Oct. 27. – from Heathrow, Fla. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. The second option is better: The company will host an employee picnic Oct. 27.

Q. When listing your credentials on a resume, should it read Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, or Bachelor of Arts in political science? – from Washington on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Bachelor of Arts in political science. Capitalize a degree specialty only if it's a proper noun: e.g., Bachelor of Arts in English.

Q. Does this sentence conform to AP style? The parcels range in acreage from .50 acres to 102 acres. – from St. Paul , Minn. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Singular for the partial acre reference: from .50 acre to 102 acres.

Q. I saw a recent question regarding "open source technology" where Ask the Editor advised to not hyphenate it because it's considered a noun phrase. What about other combining forms with "open source" such as "open source analytics"? A question from 2013 had an answer stating that as a compound modifier, it would be hyphenated. Does that still hold true or should all uses not be hyphenated? Thanks! – from Cary, N.C. on Wed, Aug 27, 2014

A. Compared to 2013, open source terms are increasingly spelled without hyphens in AP news stories.

Q. In this phrase would you put a comma after "nonprofit" or not? "the nonprofit pediatric medical center" – from , Gary, Indiana on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. No comma after nonprofit.

Q. What is the correct way to write the expression "boy oh boy"? For example, "Do you like candy? Then boy oh boy have we got something for you." Thank you. – from Whittier, Calif. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. "Do you like candy? Then boy, oh, boy have we got something for you."

Q. We've reported on a story where a man was threatened and kidnapped by two men, one of whom was wielding a sword. There's an entry for gunpoint, but nothing for 'swordpoint.' What's the style: swordpoint as a noun, sword-point as an adjective? – from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. Based on the dictionary idiom, sword's point.

Q. Lampshade or lamp shade? – from Austin, Texas on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. It's lampshade in Webster's New World College Dictionary.

Q. Hello, we've come across a management concept called Talent Development Reporting Principles. It appears the consensus is to write it as TDRp on second reference, even though "Principles" is a keyword. Should we follow the industry preference (TDRp) on this or make it "TDRP" on second reference? – from Chicago on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. I don't find this term in AP stories. If it's a trademark or brand name, the term would be capitalized on first use. How widely it is recognized could determine whether the all-caps abbreviation is acceptable on second reference. Alternatively, it could be a shorted form: the talent reporting system, or similar.

Q. In the sentence " He bought 50 45-foot-long boards," would you use figures or spell out "fifty"? – from Sagamore Hills, Ohio on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. Correct with the figure 50.

Q. When giving a rang of numbers, could you use a hyphen instead of using the word "to"? For example, the company shareholders would lose 20 - 30 cents a share. Side question: Would you also put a dollar sign and period before the numbers? – from Portland, Ore. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. The company shareholders would lose 20-30 cents a share, without a dollar sign or period before the numerals.

Q. Hello. Why does AP follow the corporate styling and use full caps for the RAND Corp.? It's not a true acronym, and the letters aren't individually pronounced. AP styles Ikea and Visa initial cap, despite the companies' preference. – from New York City on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. AP stories generally use Rand Corp. these days.

Q. I've noticed a trend in recent years of people saying and writing "sooner than later" instead of "sooner rather than later." Do you have an opinion about this? – from San Antonio on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. I'd stick with the idiom: sooner rather than later.

Q. Is it "click-bait" or "click bait" or "clickbait" when referring to content that is designed primarily to get readers to click on a tab or site? – from New York on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. A recent AP story spelled it click-bait.

Q. Is it "Fewer than 5 percent of students..." or "Less than 5 percent of students..."? I've reviewed the entries for fewer/less and percent and can't find a clear answer. One example states that "she was fewer than 60 years old" is wrong" because it refers to a general amount, not individual years. Would this be the same for students? Thanks. – from Buffalo, N.Y. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. Less than 5 percent of students ...

Q. I asked the following question and got the following response: "Q. I'm curious: What was the reason for AP's removal of the hyphen in "mind-set" as it appears in Webster's? %uFFFD from Arlington, Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 A. The 2008 Stylebook settled on "mindset" (one word), an exception to the first spelling in Webster's New World College Dictionary, which says "also mindset." The Stylebook's two backup dictionaries list mindset first." But that didn't answer my question. What I was asking is the specific reason or rationale for AP's settling on "mindset" (one word). – from Arlington, Va. on Tue, Aug 26, 2014

A. Common usage.

Q. Is this correct? "The wheres and hows" of how to do something. It's not "where's" and "how's" is it? Thanks. – from Chicago on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Correct spelled as the wheres and hows.

Q. Is it "breastmilk" or "breast milk"? – from Atlanta on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. AP stories favor breast milk, two words.

Q. When discussing hemophilia, is it that the general disease (hemophilia) is lowercase, while specific types are upper case (Hemophilia A, etc)? Or are they all lowercase? For example, this sentence: He had Hemophilia A himself and fought to help others with hemophilia. – from Clinton Township, MI on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Both uses of hemophilia are lowercase, though A for the type is capitalized.

Q. In the sentence, "They were city dwellers turned country folk," would just one hyphen suffice, between "dwellers" and "turned," or would AP editors hyphenate everything between "city" and "folk"? – from Evanston, Illinois on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. The phrasing is clear without hyphens.

Q. Is it antiharassment or anti-harassment? – from McLean, Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Hyphenate anti-harassment.

Q. What is the correct punctuation for a time and date, e.g., 8 a.m.-10 a.m. Aug. 23. Is there a comma between the time and date? – from Ardmore, Okla. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. It's 8-10 a.m. Aug. 23 without a comma between time and date. For hourly times crossing noon or midnight, use both abbreviations: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Q. Does this qualify as a sentence that needs a period? Thanks. "If only you could dance" – from Clemmons , N.C. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Yes, a period if the sentence stands alone, or a comma after dance if an attribution is added: "If only you could dance," she said.

Q. Is using "and/or" acceptable? – from Falls Church, Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. We avoid this bureaucratic construction in news stories. Either word suffices.

Q. What if I'm writing a more informal weekly column instead of a news article and want to use the word "bucks" instead of dollars? 200 bucks? Two-hundred bucks? – from Clarksburg, W.Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. Fine to use bucks in a casual context. The amount can be a numeral unless it starts the sentence.

Q. I'm curious: What was the reason for AP's removal of the hyphen in "mind-set" as it appears in Webster's? – from Arlington, Va. on Mon, Aug 25, 2014

A. The 2008 Stylebook settled on "mindset" (one word), an exception to the first spelling in Webster's New World College Dictionary, which says "also mindset." The Stylebook's two backup dictionaries list mindset first.

Q. Are these examples correct, or would "wear" and "play" be plural (assuming France and Italy are independent entities that can take this action)? "France wear purple hats when they eat grapes." or "Italy play for hours too long, and the crowd sat in the rain." – from portland, Ore. on Sun, Aug 24, 2014

A. The first sentence is awkward even when retouched: France wears purple hats when eating grapes. The second sentence should use the past tense, in agreement with the verb in the second clause: Italy played for hours too long, and the crowd sat in the rain.

Q. How would you write "annual YMCA Prayer Breakfast"? – from Honolulu on Sun, Aug 24, 2014

A. The capitalization works if it's a formal event of that name and publicized as such.

Q. Multiple response surveys or multiple-response surveys? – from Virginia, XX on Sun, Aug 24, 2014

A. In line with Webster's multiple-choice (adj.) entry, hyphenate multiple-response survey.

Q. Are state names spelled out in datelines now? I ask as a result of the recent style change to spell out most state names in copy. Thanks. George Pollock Jr. The Daily Progress Charlottesville, Virginia (spelled out :) ) gpollock@dailyprogress.com 434-978-7273 – from Charlottesville, Va. on Sun, Aug 24, 2014

A. Use state abbreviations in datelines. See ABBREVIATIONS REQUIRED section of the "state names" entry for elaboration.

Q. actually as I read the article about Backoff it doesn't say it is malware, just software. So do we put it in quotation marks? – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Sun, Aug 24, 2014

A. Correct.

Q. Would you say "demand straight talk" or "demand straight-talk"? – from New York on Sun, Aug 24, 2014

A. The first without a hyphen.

Q. Can you use, if you are not directly quoting someone, in the beginning of a sentence, "According to John Smith, director of operations ..." – from Marshall, Texas on Sun, Aug 24, 2014

A. Yes.

Q. Which is correct? John Smith said, "The grass is green, and all is right with the world." Looking around him, John Smith said, "The grass is green, and all is right with the world." "The grass is green," John Smith said, "and all is right with the world." My editor says that we shouldn't start a sentence off with John Smith said or Looking around him, John Smith said. What is the correct AP style? – from Marshall, Texas on Sun, Aug 24, 2014

A. All three are acceptable, but don't overuse versions with the attribution first.

Q. Which is correct: "an Ebola victim" or "a Ebola victim"? I've seen it both ways in newspapers. Thank you! – from Cincinnati on Sat, Aug 23, 2014

A. ... an Ebola patient ...

Q. is there an apostrophe in Gardeners Hotline? – from Port Orange, Fla. on Sat, Aug 23, 2014

A. No.

Q. Would like to know AP's preference for the new prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic - Alexander or Aleksandr Zakharchenko. Thank you. – from Chicago on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. In AP stories, he's Alexander Zakharchenko.

Q. My question is in regards to using quotation marks when defining or referring to words or terms. Example: "Zapato" means "shoe" in Spanish. Are the quotation marks used correctly there? What is the standard rule on this, and what are these types of quotation marks called? I can't find an answer to this anywhere, so hopefully you can help me. Other examples: An expletive is a dramatic or emotional word or phrase interjected into a statement. In the United States, the term "expletive" is most often used to refer to a curse word or profanity. In Dutch, the word for "fire" is "vuur." Any help you can provide would be very much appreciated. – from Swansea, Ill. on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. Correct as you have it. It's covered in the Stylebook's "foreign words" entry.

Q. Would you hyphenate greenhouse-gas emissions or go with greenhouse gas emissions? – from Rosemead, Calif. on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. No hyphen in this noun phrase.

Q. If I refer to the same city twice in one article, do I only need to add the state upon first mention? – from Cincinnati on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. Correct.

Q. In this sentence, "He weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces and was 21 inches long," should there be a comma after "10 ounces"? I'm thinking it's like, "He lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was a teacher," with the comma after the state. – from Salina, Kan. on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. No comma after 10 ounces in that sentence.

Q. Is it Master of Arts in philosophy or Master of Arts in Philosophy; and is it master's degree in philosophy or master's degree in Philosophy? – from oakwood village, Ohio on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. Master of Arts in philosophy; master's degree in philosophy.

Q. Does AP style now allow the use of "centered around" in addition to "centered on?" – from Plano, Texas on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. Both are acceptable, though centered around is perhaps more informal.

Q. In general, would you avoid the phrase "in order to"? Example: He felt strongly about joining the PAC in order to contribute to the collective whole of the group and for the benefits of the charity matching program. – from Falls Church, Va. on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. Yes. And you might want to tighten up other phrases in the sentence.

Q. Should U.S. News & World Report be italicized? – from Falls Church, Va. on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. Not in an AP news story. Italics don't transmit through all computer systems. See the "magazine names" entry for use of italics for AP Stylebook examples.

Q. I'm editing a novel. The writer is saying that an excessive sin has been committed. He has written "Cardinal sin". Should cardinal be capitalized? – from Charlotte, N.C. on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. Lowercase cardinal sin.

Q. I have seen the word saltshaker spelled as one word but pepper shaker spelled as two. Is this correct? – from Charlotte, N.C. on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. Yes, those are the spellings in Webster's New World College Dictionary, the AP Stylebook's main reference.

Q. In the following list, I'm what needs a hyphen. I'm certain "long-term" does since it modifies care facilities. But not sure on the other two... Disability sports organizations Psychiatric treatment centers Long-term care facilities – from Mt. Pleasant, Mich. on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

A. No hyphens in the first two, hyphenate long-term care facilities.

Q. Would you use past tense or present tense in this example? Police said Monday they have confirmed that the man in the video is/was John Smith. – from Virginia, XX on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. Use the present tense in this formulation.

Q. There is an entry for "Alitalia Airlines," yet the "airline, airlines" entry states, "Companies that use none of these include Aer Lingus, Aeromexico, Air Canada, Air France, Air India, Alitalia, Emirates and Iberia." Which is the correct way to refer to this carrier? Thank you. – from Atlanta on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. Alitalia alone is correct. Thanks for pointing out the Stylebook entry. I'll look into making it conform.

Q. Sue helps her students find their voice and their passion as writers - or - Sue helps her students find their voices and their passions as writers – from Elgin, Ill. on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. The plural, though that phrase is a cliche. Better to be more specific about Sue's influence on her writing students.

Q. Is this the correct way to write the following expression when you mean with regard to risk management? risk managementwise – from Raleigh, N.C. on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. It looks awfully contrived. Better to rephrase: regarding risk management.

Q. Is this use of the colon incorrect? "Risks may include: surgical complications, infection, failure to deliver therapy as needed and/or worsening of some symptoms." Thanks for your expertise. – from Minneapolis on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. No colon in that construction. And rather than the slash, or suffices for the last item in the series.

Q. I believe that according to AP style, the phrase "dirty-energy" to modify a noun, like "industry" should be hyphenated. But it's not hyphenated in much of what I am seeing, such as in this NYT headline: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/opinion/22tue1.html?_r=0 Hyphenate or no? – from Boston on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. No, dirty energy either standing alone or preceding another noun isn't hyphenated in AP stories.

Q. Should enterprisewide be hyphenated? – from Temecula CA, Calif. on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. No, but it's awkward. Better to rephrase: e.g., throughout the enterprise or company.

Q. For an invitation, is this the proper way to invite guests? "You and a guest are invited to join me and New York Yankee shortstop Alex Rodriguez for an evening to celebrate..." – on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. You might rephrase slightly to underline the two-person limit for the invitation: You and one other guest are invited ...

Q. Under "organizations and institutions," the section on INTERNAL ELEMENTS says to lower case internal elements of an organization when they have names that are widely used generic terms, such as the board of trustees of Columbia University. Our university has a board of governors. I saw board of governors capitalized in other instances, such as the Academy Awards Board of Governors. Would it be capitalized in reference to a university's governing board? – from Warrensburg, Mo. on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. AP would lowercase the university's board of governors.

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