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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 know I should not capitalize %uFFFFdistrict%uFFFF or the %uFFFFboard%uFFFF but I%uFFFFm wondering if different rules govern the writing of school district policies and procedures. When referencing districts, the Washington State School Directors Association properly lowercases "district," but their policies and procedures (which individual school districts can adapt) always refer to the District and the Board. – from Bainbridge Island, Wash. on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. In the full formal name, both terms would be capitalized as integral parts of the name. However, in follow-ups, AP would lowercase the board or the district.

Q. I want to use 99-cents meals in a headline. What is the correct way to write "99-cents meals offered in cafeteria?" I am discussing this with three of my colleagues. There are seven degrees between us. – from Orlando, Fla. on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. The headline can read: 99-cent meals offered in cafeteria

Q. Time frame / timeframe: one word or two? – from Washington on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. Two words: time frame.

Q. Is it acceptable or not to use all caps for emphasis of a key word or two in a sentence? For example: "It is important that everyone file their federal taxes ON OR BEFORE the tax filing deadline of April 15." – from Bloomington, Ill. on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. AP doesn't use all-cap spellings for emphasis.

Q. I have a book review that talks about a character's nest egg and how he built it up, saying that his 1-2-3 trifecta came in twice. Would AP keep that as is, spell out the numbers, or (last choice) recast? – from Farmington, Maine on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. In racetrack betting, trifecta means picking the first, second and third places, so trifecta should suffice. AP stories have referred to 1-2-3 trifecta, but not in recent years.

Q. When multiple cities from the same state are listed in an article, is it necessary to list the state name with each city, or just with the first city that is referenced? Are there rules regarding whether or not to use the state name in well-known cities like Spokane or Seattle? – from Prosser, Washington on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. No state name is necessary with any of the cities if the state is listed in the dateline. See the "state names" entry for elaboration.

Q. What is the rule behind the presence of an apostrophe when naming a medical syndrome after its discoverer (for example Turner syndrome versus Cushing's syndrome)? – from Baltimore on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. We follow the dictionary's entries on those spellings. See the Stylebook's "diseases" entry for elaboration.

Q. Eastern Caribbean: should "Eastern" be capitalized? I think so, as it is a region. – from Waukesha, Wis. on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. AP stories from the region lowercase eastern in that reference: eastern Caribbean.

Q. In this sentence, "Your satisfaction is our number one priority.", should "number one" be hyphenated or written out as "No. 1"? – from Tucker, Ga. on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. "... our No. 1 priority."

Q. Greetings. Is it inter-room or interroom? Your "inter-" entry suggests without a hyphen, but maybe this is one of the exceptions? I had more Web returns for the hyphenated vs. compound form. Thank you! – from Andover, N.C. on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. While it's not a dictionary or Stylebook entry, the dictionary doesn't hyphenate any compounds formed with inter.

Q. Is it one space or two spaces after a colon? – from Falling Waters, W.Va. on Thu, Feb 11, 2016

A. One space after a colon.

Q. In December of 2015 you wrote this in response to a query about why "donut" isn't considered acceptable: "A. 1. We favor doughnut in line with the primary dictionary entry. The other spelling appears in a well-known brand name, though the dictionary entry calls that spelling informal." However, the editors at Merriam-Webster make this case: http://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/is-it-donut-or-doughnut – from Santa Ana, Calif. on Wed, Feb 10, 2016

A. The AP Stylebook spelling of doughnut conforms with Webster's New World College Dictionary, the Stylebook's primary reference.

Q. Many texts capitalize education for sustainable development (ESD). When abbreviated it is capitalized. Does that mean it should also be capped when written out? Same question for education for sustainability (EfS). Example: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652616000342 – from Alexandria, Va. on Wed, Feb 10, 2016

A. In writing for general audiences, AP normally spells such terms lowercase and avoids abbreviations that may not be well-known. We don't follow a term with the abbreviation in parentheses.

Q. What are the rules on overnight vs. over night? If I'm saying, "I won't grow a foot over night..." is it over night or overnight? – from Dallas on Wed, Feb 10, 2016

A. It's overnight (adv., adj.).

Q. Chicago-to-Puerto Rico route or Chicago-to-Puerto-Rico route – from Mount Pilot, N.C. on Wed, Feb 10, 2016

A. Chicago-to-Puerto Rico route.

Q. Is Transcendentalist capitalized? Two key Transcendentalist thinkers. – from New London, N.H. on Wed, Feb 10, 2016

A. Two key transcendentalist thinkers.

Q. What actually distinguishes a formal title from an informal one? I'm of the disposition that a low-level job title such as "associate" or "editor" should never be capitalized, even if it is the person's official job title. – from Los Angeles on Wed, Feb 10, 2016

A. It has to be a formal office capitalized by a business or organization that bestows the title. Also, it must directly precede the full name of the individual. A formal title placed after a name is spelled down. As job descriptions, both editor and associate are lowercase.

Q. Do you have any suggestions on how to tell when you're dealing with a noun phrase as opposed to a compound modifier that requires a hyphen? – from New York on Wed, Feb 10, 2016

A. A noun phrase is a sequence of two or more nouns that form a grammatical unit that is less than a complete sentence. Dictionary entries and common usage, rather than ironclad rules, provide guidance. Also, the AP Stylebook takes a minimalist approach to hyphenation, advising use of hyphens only when absences would cause confusion.

Q. We have a new center with a hyphenated word. In the name "Center for Employment and Economic Well-Being" - is "being" a capitalized or lowercase? – from Alexandria, Va. on Wed, Feb 10, 2016

A. As part of a title or formal name, both parts can be capitalized.

Q. Capital 'P' in "Pyrrhic victory" or no capital? – from Boston on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. Deferring to the dictionary spelling which caps the P in Pyrrhic victory -- meaning, a too costly victory.

Q. Are you supposed to italicize or put quotation marks around website names? Example: Rena Pederson has been dubbed %uFFFFone of the most powerful women in Texas%uFFFF by Texas Monthly. How should Texas Monthly be punctuated? Is it fine as is? Thank you. – from San Antonio on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. The name isn't capitalized or italicized, but it needs a word of description: Rena Pederson has been dubbed "one of the most powerful women in Texas" by the website Texas Monthly.

Q. Is "bio-identical" hyphenated or not? I have seen it both ways in prominent articles. If both ways are acceptable, what is the "higher" rule I could use for determining which one has the most credibility? Does "bio" follow the same rule for "non" in front of words? – from Dallas on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. Words with the bio combining form are usually compounds without a hyphen: bioidentical.

Q. What's the proer way to state a time of day? For example: the meeting will be at 3 p.m. or 3:00PM or 3:00 p.m. – from Washington on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. The meeting will be at 3 p.m. If minutes are included, use a colon: 3:15 p.m.

Q. When writing about electricity, do I write "1.5 watts per square foot," or "1.5 watts per sq. ft.?" – from Tacoma, Wash. on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. Generally the type of measure is written out. However, the abbreviated sq. ft. could be used in a tight-space situation, such as a headline.

Q. Would you cap fire department saying The city Fire Department responded? The specific city was not mentioned but is the city assumed, therefore the fire department is specific? – from Pekin, Ill. on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. Yes, see the WITHOUT JURISDICTION section of "governmental bodies" for examples.

Q. I have seen free-lance, freelance and free lance. What is the correct version, according to AP? – from Wheeling, W.Va. on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. The Stylebook entry is freelancer (n.), freelance (v. and adj.).

Q. In a print document, should an email address be underlined? – from Marshall, Minn. on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. Probably not on a print document, though underlined addresses are common for websites.

Q. "4.5 on a 5-point scale" or "4.5 on a five-point scale"? Unfortunately, the one example I found in "Ask the Editor" was for a "10-point scale," leaving me wondering what you recommend for scales with only one through nine points. ;-) – from Decatur, Ga. on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. Use figures for scales: 4.5 on a 5-point scale.

Q. Is it incorrect to have the last word on a line be a preposition, specifically in a sentence where a portion of the sentence goes to the next line, and where last word on the previous line is a preposition? – from Bloomington, Ill. on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. In terms of grammar, we don't object to ending a sentence with a preposition. If it results in a typographical oddity, such as a widow, you could tinker with the phrasing.

Q. I've noticed recently that people are sometimes using the word photography" when I believe they should be using the word photograph or photographs. Ex. Photography should be contained within rectangular or circular shapes on the website's home page. Ex. The photography works well at the current scale and placement on this site. Shouldn't photography be photographs in these two sentences? I've been seeing it so frequently that I'm second guessing myself! – from Houston on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. A photograph, or photo, is the image or picture made by photography. The first term seems to fit better in both your examples.

Q. Held at gunpoint (one word), but held at knife point (two words)? – from Crystal Lake, Illinois on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. Correct.

Q. In the phrase "It's not a 9-to-5 world," would you include the hyphens or write "9 to 5 world" or "9-5 world?" – from , Farmington Hills, Michigan on Tue, Feb 09, 2016

A. Since the reference is to clock time, 9-to-5 world.

Q. Spoken-word performance -- hyphen or no? – from Charlotte, N.C. on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. Yes, hyphenate spoken-word performance.

Q. I understand that we don't capitalize soldiers, only Marines in AP style. However, while in the U.S. Army and writing for them, it is required that soldier is capitalized. It has now been this way for a number of years. Can we as professional journalists and writers in the U.S. Army petition for the AP Stylebook to change it and say that soldier is capitalized? If so, what is the official procedure, if there is one? – from El Paso, Texas on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. The Stylebook lines up with the dictionary in the lowercase spelling of soldier for a person serving in an army. We're aware that the U.S. military uses the capitalized spelling.

Q. Bikeway, bike way or bike-way. I am writing a piece on construction in my city and while the city officially calls it a "bikeway," I'd like to be sure. – from Fort Collins, Colo. on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. Deferring to the dictionary's bikeway.

Q. Capitalization of cultural identifiers ex. "An exhibit of Deaf Black artists"? – from Rochester, N.Y. on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. In this description, both words are lowercase in AP Stylebook guidance. See the Stylebook entries for elaboration.

Q. Can you split a single sentence with attribution? This is a bad example, but for instance: %uFFFFShe had diamonds,%uFFFF she said, %uFFFFon the inside.%uFFFF – from San Antonio on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. Yes, occasionally. But generally, the attribution is more natural at the beginning or end of the sentence.

Q. What is the correct past tense use of sync? Synced? – from San Antonio on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. It's sync, syncing, synced.

Q. Can you help me with the phrase "turn of the century"? Is there a way to clarify what it refers to, such as "turn of the 20th century," which I've seen as an example in some style guides but still doesn't clarify for me whether it means early 1900s or early 2000s, or do you advise just not using it and instead rewriting text using the phrase? – from Reading, Pa. on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. By the dictionary definition of "turn," this phrase refers to a turning point, the time of a chronological change. At the turn of the 20th century means the changeover to the new millennium, or time measured in the years 2000, 2001, etc.

Q. I see from a previous entry that AP Style prefers macroeconomic as one word - does this include times when it is modifying another word, such as "Grow independent of macro-economic environment?" – from Danbury, Conn. on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. Yes, it's macroeconomic (adj.).

Q. I need to show a date range across months that are within the same year. I know the guidance is to exclude the year, but think it is needed in this context. Would Jan. 1-Feb. 12, 2016 be acceptable? – from New York on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. Yes, with a comma after 2016 in your sentence.

Q. Should "vacuum packing" be hyphenated? Here are a few examples from a story I am working on: "... the process of vacuum-packing became..." "Vacuum-packing removes..." "When meat is vacuum-packed..." Thanks in advance. – from AE, AP on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. The dictionary hyphenates vacuum-packed (adj.). However, vacuum packing (two nouns) doesn't need a hyphen.

Q. Is "up-to-dateness" an acceptable noun form of "up-to-date"? – from P%uFFFDes , XX on Mon, Feb 08, 2016

A. Yes, it's in the dictionary as up-to-dateness (n.).

Q. When referring to single letters, should those be uppercase? As in: "Colombians want America to know that the country's name is spelled with an o and not a u." – from Seattle on Sun, Feb 07, 2016

A. Lowercase these letters.

Q. Why do U.S. and U.K. take periods and EU and USSR do not? Is it because one is a country and the other is a collection of countries? And then, why does U.N. takes periods? Because it is an organization of a collection of countries? Thanks for taking the time to answer. Noelle Knox (former AP editor/now editor for Politico Europe) – from Brussels, Belgium on Sun, Feb 07, 2016

A. Most two-letter abbreviations, including U.S., U.K., and U.N., take periods. An exception is EU without periods, the formal style of the European Union. For longer abbreviations in which individual letters are pronounced, use all caps and no periods: e.g., USSR. See CAPS, PERIODS section of the Stylebook's "abbreviations and acronyms" entry for elaboration.

Q. The program was "born" out of a gift from an alumnus. Is it "borne" or "borne"? Thank you! – from , on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. The correct spelling is born.

Q. Is "best in class" hyphenated when it is not used as a modifier or to refer to an award? Example: "The business is trying to establish itself as best in class." How about after a form of the verb "to be," such as "events that are best in class"? In the latter case, rewriting to "best-in-class events" isn%uFFFFt an option. – from Boston on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. It's fine without hyphens.

Q. What's the correct way to write a period of time, for example, a conference that runs from Feb. 4 to Feb. 14? Also, "The rainy reason runs from March-November"? – from San Diego on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. The conference is Feb. 4-14. The rainy season runs from March to November.

Q. Is NHL acceptable on first reference? – from , Harrisburg, Pa. on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. Yes.

Q. Hi, any chance of changing "voice mail" to "voicemail" in the stylebook? It seems like that entry dates back to 2007 and that most dictionaries recognize it as one word now. If you run a Google search of site:ap.org with "voice mail" in quotation marks and compare it to "voicemail," it shows that the one-word version appears 1,440 times versus 239, so the one-word option seems to align with conventional AP usage too. The logic made sense beforehand, when it was not as common of a term, but it seems like a good time to make a change. Thanks for taking a look. – from New York, N.Y. on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. It's under consideration.

Q. Can you state the guidelines for the use of a plural acronym ending in "S"? For example, we use CS frequently to stand for Clinical Specialists. Sentence example: "The CSs are meeting in room one." Should it be CSs or CS's? Thank you!! – from Dallas on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. By the MULTIPLE LETTERS section of the "plurals" entry, make it CSs.

Q. Would it be "There was a 13-percent increase in college acceptance rates" or would it be "13 percent" – from Lenexa, Kan. on Fri, Feb 05, 2016

A. With percent or percentage, there's no hyphen linking the figure and the term.

Q. What are the preferred usages for instinctive and instinctual? For example, in this sentence - "Whether we are aware of it or not, we instinctually assign value to every aspect of the dining experience." Would "instinctively" be more correct? – from New York on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. Use instinctively, the dictionary's adverb form.

Q. I know Scripture is capitalized when referring to the writings in the Bible, but what about the Good Word, and other references to the Scriptures? – from Indian Trail, N.C. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. Lowercase such expressions.

Q. Season ticket holders or season tickets holders? – from Oklahoma City on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. It's usually season ticket holders in AP stories. Some stories hyphenate the first two words as a modifier, but the noun phrase form without hyphens seems just fine.

Q. Bio-metric, with a hyphen? (keyword: biometric) – from St. Paul, Minn. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. It's biometric.

Q. In a quote, do you use a numeral for an age under 10 or spell it out? – from Seattle , Wash. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. Yes, ages are expressed in numerals.

Q. My news editing class is having a hard time understanding the difference between less and fewer. Could you give us a better example? – from Detroit on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. In general, use fewer for count nouns: fewer than six cars. Use less for nouns of mass: less paper, less paint. There are exceptions, however, in some common expressions: e.g., write the jingle in 25 words or less.

Q. Hello! Are we talking chinook or Chinook? ... I work for a federal water agency and so I read a lot of salmon stories. I found your ruling in 2008 that chinook is not to be capitalized but I see a shift to more consistently capitalize Chinook in the press the last few years, namely the Sacramento Bee and LA Times. Will you please clarify or reconsider your ruling? Thanks! – from , Sacramento, Calif. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. The dictionary uses capitalized Chinook for the Indian people of the Columbia River valley and the spoken tribal language. However, chinook salmon is spelled lowercase in Webster's New World College Dictionary, the Stylebook's main reference.

Q. AP Style says to use a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series also uses a conjunction. The phrase "I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast" makes sense, but what about this sentence: "The overall focus is on helping our customers feel empowered and inspired to make purchases, take on projects, or utilize our ideas so they can get more out of their living space." Would there be a comma before the "or"? Or is an integral element only considered one that is at the end of the sentence before the terminal conjunction and not at the beginning? – from Dover, N.H. on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. If the second element of the series included more description of the kind of projects, a series comma would be helpful.

Q. When referring to a fashion collection such as the Simply Vera Vera Wang collection, should "collection" also have title caps? – from Williamstown, MA on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. It's lowercase collection.

Q. Does decision-making typically have a hyphen? Or just when used as a compound modifier? For example, in this sentence, should there be a hyphen? "We have confidence in our decision-making regarding the care of our patients." Thanks! – from Dallas on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. AP stories hyphenate decision-making in all uses.

Q. What are the correct ways to abbreviate south and southeast when referring to an area in Lebanon in a headline? – from Beirut, Lebanon on Thu, Feb 04, 2016

A. AP headlines occasionally use S. Lebanon when space is tight.

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