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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. Hi- Does AP have a preference on usage of "Tree of Life," specifically referring to the project with a goal of recording information on every species and for each group of organisms, living or extinct? Should the full name capped be used on first reference as in the "Tree of Life Web Project?" And on second reference, the project? I'm being asked to use "Tree of Life" on first reference and "Tree" on second, which obviously I'm questioning.:) Thank you! – from Gainesville, Fla. on Wed, May 27, 2015

A. The term doesn't show in AP news reports. The losest is family tree, which is lowercase in a science story.

Q. In the phrase "local English-speaking guide," do you think "local" and "English-speaking" are equal adjectives, which would take a comma? I'm of the inclination they're unequal %uFFFD%uFFFDthat "English-speaking guide" is a noun phrase modified by "local," thus no comma. Thoughts? – from , on Wed, May 27, 2015

A. I wouldn't use a comma after local.

Q. Is it tickborne disease, tick borne or tick-borne disease? – from Oklahoma City on Wed, May 27, 2015

A. In AP stories, tick-borne.

Q. Would one release the name in a juvenile suicide? The case is somewhat publicly disruptive because of a body found in the woods. The entire surrounding communities were waiting on updates. After a day or so it was determined that it was a juvenile and a suicide. – from Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wed, May 27, 2015

A. AP probably would not use the name.

Q. For the adjective and noun, ironmaking , iron making or iron-making? Thank you – from Virginia, XX on Tue, May 26, 2015

A. Probably hyphenated: iron-making.

Q. Is it to correct to hyphenate low water-demand plants? By low water-demand, I mean to describe plants that are successful during a drought because they need little watering. – from Palo Alto, Calif. on Tue, May 26, 2015

A. Better to use straight-forward phrasing: plants that require little watering.

Q. Our publication is in a hyphenated metropolitan area (Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale MSA). Is it proper to simply identify the area, when referring to the MSA, as the Phoenix metro? Alternatively, should it be identified with the full metro name in the first reference -- even if it is awkward and cumbersome? – from Scottsdale, Ariz. on Tue, May 26, 2015

A. I had to look up MSA to determine what it means. My advice is to avoid this bureaucratic abbreviation for metropolitan statistical area. It's just officialese. Instead, call it the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area if it's locally known that way.

Q. Would you say, "One-fourth of the population were able to..." or was able? – from Raleigh, N.C. on Tue, May 26, 2015

A. ... was able ...

Q. Got questions? Acceptable use of "got?" – from Jefferosn City, Mo. on Tue, May 26, 2015

A. No, got is awkward and informal. Try: any questions? Or ... Questions?

Q. Would you hyphenate out of the box if it's not a compound modifier? For example, It inspired her to do something out-of-the-box and to solve a problem. – from Chicago on Tue, May 26, 2015

A. What is out of the box? Does it mean she was inspired to do something original? Creative? Unusual? Out of the ordinary? Outrageous?

Q. The District of Columbia entry says "In datelines Washington doesn't take D.C. " Can you explain what that means? – from Dallas on Tue, May 26, 2015

A. It means that in AP datelines, WASHINGTON stands alone without D.C.

Q. Is it to correct to hyphenate low water-demand plants? – from Palo Alto, Calif. on Mon, May 25, 2015

A. Do you mean low-demand water plants?

Q. Airlines often rename and capitalize their seat classes as a branding exercise. Do we follow their capitalization when referring to these seat classes? E.g. business class branded as Travel Class; or Premium Economy Class for a higher-priced version of economy class. – from Tokyo on Mon, May 25, 2015

A. AP news stories don't capitalize airline seat classes.

Q. When do you use a comma after the word "please"? For example, would you say, "Please share your experience ..." or "Please, share your experience ..."? – from Portland, Ore. on Mon, May 25, 2015

A. The adverb please modifying share isn't set off with a comma: Please share your experience.

Q. For former heads of state and others (such as Cabinet members), is the person's title uppercase or lowercase when preceding the name? For example, is it former Prime Minister Tony Blair or former prime minister Tony Blair? Former secretary of defense Robert Gates or former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates? – from Pittsburgh on Mon, May 25, 2015

A. Per the Stylebook's "former" entry, it's always lowercase. But retain capitalization for a formal title used immediately before a name: former Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Secretary of State Robert Gates.

Q. Would AP capitalize the noun Choice Card when referring to the Veterans Affairs program of giving veterans cards to use at civilian medical locations? Thank you. – from Miami on Mon, May 25, 2015

A. No, but "choice card" is often enclosed in quotes on first reference in AP stories.

Q. I learned that "due to" does not mean "because of" and instead means "caused by." So "The game was postponed due to rain" is incorrect, but obviously we see it all the time ("The postponement was due to rain" would be correct.) Merrium-Webster says "due to" and "because of" are interchangeable. What's your policy? Thank you. – from Philadelphia on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. Webster's New World College Dictionary, the Stylebook's main reference, lists caused by and resulting from as the primary definitions of "due to." The second definition is because of. Purists would no doubt favor the first meaning.

Q. How would you hyphenate well before a phrase? The clause, "All were very well thought out" has appeared in my publication. Should it be "well-thought out" or "well-thought-out" or "well thought-out, or should it just stay as it is? – from Rexburg, Idaho on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. No hyphens required in very well thought out.

Q. Would the usage be: We have an Instagram? Or some other wording? – from Phoenix on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. We have Instagram.

Q. Is it proper to say "Abundant rainfall resurrects Texas lakes from drought" in a story title? – from Stanton, Texas on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. How about revives lakes? Resurrects means to bring back from the dead. It may be accurate, though.

Q. When referring to a conference room, should it be written as the Jefferson Conference Room or the Jefferson conference room? – from Chester, Va. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. Of course, Jefferson is capitalized. The other two words could be capitalized if they are part of the formal name. Otherwise, lowercase conference room.

Q. Can you clarify WHY the verb is 'has' and not 'have' in the following sentence? There are two different opinions in my office and we'd like to know which is right. For the last seven years, staff from the LGFCU Commercial Lending department has participated in the event to show their support for the members they serve. – from Raleigh, N.C. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. The problem is agreement. Staff is a collective noun, which usually requires a singular verb and pronoun. But the sentence uses a singular verb -- has participated -- and a plural pronoun -- their. The sentence would be better rephrased with a plural subject to solve the agreement problem: For the last seven years, staffers (or staff members) from the LGFCU Commercial Lending department have participated in the event to show their support for the members they serve.

Q. If a business' name is in lowercase, should I write it in lowercase or capitalize the first letter of the first word? Ex: The party occurred at dream nightclub. OR The party occurred at Dream nightclub. – from Gainesville, Fla. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. If you retain the lowercase spelling in line with the nightclub's preference, it might be clearer to rephrase: The party took place at the nightclub named dream.

Q. The standard for AP heading style seems to be sentence-style capping (%uFFFDdown%uFFFD style). Yet, in some environments following AP style, headline-style capping (%uFFFDup%uFFFD style) is used for the titles both of articles and sections within articles. I cannot find a headline-style guideline spelled out anywhere in the stylebook. In the AP approach to headline-style capping, would you cap the root word in a hyphenated compound? Would you cap the second element of a hyphenated compound if it would be capped on its own? Would you cap the particle in a phrasal verb? Would you cap prepositions of four words or longer? Five words or longer? Would you cap the first and last words, regardless of whether they would otherwise be lowercase? (I assume that coordinating conjunctions, articles [a, an, the], the infinitive marker, and at the very least short prepositions are down. Unless, of course, they follow a colon or are the first or last word in the phrase.) __________ AN ASIDE (not necessary to reproduce! just to let you know I have searched) I did see this answer to a question submitted on June 24, 2104: See the Online section of the %uFFFDheadlines%uFFFD entry, which specifies all words up. But I can find no such entry. The online entry for headlines says only this: All AP stories need a short headline and a long headline. Only the first word and proper nouns are capitalized. Exception: First word after colon is always uppercase in headlines. Sorry, the question is lengthy because I am looking for specifics. – from Redwood City, Calif. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. Some publications capitalize the main words of a headline, including hyphenated compounds, prepositions of four or more letters and both parts of "to be" verbs. Others are down as you list them. See NYT and WSJ headlines for examples.

Q. Is the word "approximately" necessary before exact numbers? A comment was made to include approximately before all distances, thanks – from Austin, Texas on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. I wouldn't as a rule use approximately or about in front of every numerical distance. The hedging term would be appropriate if the distance is an estimate.

Q. Should it be "mobile-friendly" or "mobile friendly"? I have seen this phrase hyphenated in many uses, but according to the AP section on hyphens, modifiers ending in ly shouldn't be hyphenated. Can you confirm the correct usage? – from Kansas City , Kan. on Fri, May 22, 2015

A. No hyphen needed in mobile friendly.

Q. Is "what ifs" the correct way to use this phrase? – from University City, Mo. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. Correct.

Q. Which is preferred? The park is open noon-5 p.m. Sunday. or The park is open noon-5 p.m. Sundays. – from Chicago on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. It depends on the context. In a list with other days of the week using singular, Sunday would conform. Standing alone, the plural Sundays indicates a recurring or regular opening.

Q. How does AP handle "head to head" and "neck and neck"? Webster's New World College Dictionary seems to contradict itself, saying it's "neck and neck" (no hyphens) but "head-to-head." Thanks. – from Austin, Texas on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. The dictionary hyphenates head-to-head (adj., adv.). For neck and neck, the dictionary doesn't hyphenate this example: the candidates are neck and neck in the polls.

Q. Hyphen in "wrongful-death lawsuit," or is it a common enough phrase to not be necessary? Still, we might want to be very clear we are not describing the lawsuit as wrongful. Thanks. – from St. Paul, Minn. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. In AP stories on lawsuits, wrongful death isn't hyphenated.

Q. Should the phrase GI Bill be capitalized? – from Cottleville, Mo. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. Yes, it's short for GI Bill of Rights in the Stylebook example.

Q. Is it "provides" or "provide" in this sentence?: The earnings from her gift provides $100,000 for our work this year, and every year, to be used where funds are needed most. – from Des Moines, Iowa on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. The earnings ... provide ...

Q. Webster's New World College Dictionary lists kickoff as one word for all uses. Is that the style that AP uses too? – from Williamsport, Pa. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. No. In the "football" section of Sports Guidelines, the AP Stylebook lists kick off (v.), kickoff (n., adj.).

Q. Can you use fine-tune as a verb, i.e., fine-tuning? – from Plantsville, Conn. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. Yes, the verb forms in the dictionary are fine-tune, fine-tuned, fine-tuning.

Q. Are online publications italicized when referring to them? – from Red Bank, N.J. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. AP news stories don't use italics. Instead, for example, blog names use the name as spelled by the writer, capitalizing the first letter and other main words. Don't enclose the name in quotation marks unless it's an unusual spelling that might otherwise be unclear.

Q. When writing about "grey matter" like in the brain, is it gray matter or grey matter? Normally grey vs gray is a cultural difference, but in the case of a proper noun, what is the correct version of gray/grey? – from Eden Prairie, Minnesota on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. It's gray matter with an "a."

Q. I am reading an article about the spread of Sanskrit in India and came across this sentence: As such, Sanskrit has never been the language of the majority of India's population, especially in East and South India, where local languages developed independent of Sanskrit. Should east and south be capitalized? in this case these areas are not designations the like Southern U.S. Or do they get capped because they are regions of the country? – from Orysia, New York City, N.Y. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. AP stories from India lowercase the area designator: east India, south India, northern India, etc.

Q. Would it be accurate and fair to say that Israel party controls the Palestinian territories of Gaza Strip and the West Bank? – from , Belleville, N.J. on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. You probably mean "partly" controls. Israel has guarded settlements, roads and fences in the West Bank, along with security forces in certain areas. It controls land access to the Gaza Strip along the common frontier, which is heavily guarded.

Q. Looking for a style ruling on "bunker-buster" bombs please: quote marks or no quote marks? hyphen or no hyphen? And is it "buster" or "busting," as we've seen both? Thanks! – from Tel Aviv, XX on Thu, May 21, 2015

A. Often hyphenated as a compound modifier but not enclosed in quotes: bunker-buster bomb.

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