Ask the Editor Style Guidance

Ask the Editor highlights

Ask the Editor is a forum on writing, style and phrasing issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke fields questions posed by subscribers to AP Stylebook Online. Below is a sampling of recent questions Paula has answered.

Click on a topic below to learn more about AP style:

Question from Baltimore, Maryland, on May 19, 2022

I know a.m. and p.m. is the rule for print. I keep hearing that for digital content, AM and PM are the standard because of differences in how the eye reads content onscreen. What do you say?

Answer

We use a.m. and p.m. for digital as well as print. Our stories are published simutaneously to both print and digital. You could choose to use AM and PM, of course.


Question from on May 16, 2022

Is it acceptable to use "FDNY" in a headline instead of using "Fire Department of New York"?

Answer

If you're writing for a specific audience whose readers would recognize it the abbreviation, that's fine. If it's a broader audience, try to avoid it.


Question from Waco, Texas, on May 09, 2022

Was surprised to find nothing in the Stylebook (not even an Ask the Editor) about this: Does the AP have any guidance about usage of Ob/Gyn? Spelled out on first reference, abbreviation thereafter? Am I overthinking this?

Answer

This is on AP Stylebook Online: 
OB-GYN  Acceptable in all references for obstetrics and gynecology, a medical specialty.


Question from Dover, Delaware, on May 06, 2022

Is usage of "+" allowable? For instance, $100+

Answer

We don't use it in that usage. Here's the guidance:


plus symbol (+) 


The symbol is acceptable when it is pronounced as part of a company, brand or event name: Disney+, Apple TV+, ESPN+, CompTia Network+. Do not use in slugs of AP stories; use plus in slugs. Use the word plus in other uses: They expect 200-plus people. He is my plus-one. Flowers plus blue skies make for a nice day. She got a B-plus on the test
.

Question from Brookings, South Dakota, on May 06, 2022

Would you please clarify what RN should be? I ask because I've found the following results when searching. Thank you.

Question from Chicago, Illinois, on Oct. 30, 2017
I understand AP prefers not to list multiple academic titles, but if this is necessary due to the nature of content, would the titles include periods or not? 
John Smith, DNP, RN, MS or John Smith, D.N.P., R.N., M.S.

Answer
Under the guidance in this entry,  it would be DNP, R.N., M.S. (Periods for two-letter abbreviations, no periods for the longer ones.)

Question from Kansas City, Missouri, on Feb. 21, 2019
Hi. I feel sure this is covered somewhere, but I can't find it. What is style for RN and LPN? Just like that, with no periods?

Answer
That's correct.

Answer

Either coul be considered correct; different editors seem to have used different guidance. Webster's New World College Dictionary lists it as RN. Our standard guidance is to use periods with two-letter abbreviations. I've deleted the RN answer. We'll go with our standard style: R.N.


Question from South Carolina, on May 17, 2022

Hello! What is correct?

1. She holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing from...
2. She holds a bachelor of science in nursing from...
3. She holds of Bachelor of Science in Nursing from...

Previous entries used #1 but a recent AP News story has all lowercase. Article link: https://apnews.com/article/oklahoma-f5238ff1041bd730c66b7c38d61aa420

Thanks for any help on this!

Answer

The first one is correct. AP staffers sometimes make mistakes or don't know every point of style.


Question from ALEXANDRIA, Virginia, on May 17, 2022

Second reference on Census Bureau -- is Census OK is should it still be Census Bureau?

Answer

On second reference, Census Bureau or the bureau. Not Census standing alone.


Question from Orange Beach, Alabama, on May 13, 2022

When it comes to a degree program name or its title, is it correct to say: Master of Science in accounting or Master of Science in Accounting? The school lists the official title of the degree program as a Master of Science in Accounting  Thank you

Answer

We use the lowercase: Master of Science in accounting. You can do otherwise if you prefer, or if that's what your school wants.


Question from east lansing, Michigan, on May 13, 2022

Since you now capitalize Black, what about Brown?  "This bar had a terrific mix of people  - Black, Brown, white."

Answer

We don't use the term ourselves; see the entry below. If it's in a direct quotation, we don't capitalize it because it's a general and imprecise term.

brown (adj.) Avoid this broad and imprecise term in racial, ethnic or cultural references unless as part of a direct quotation. Interpretations of what the term includes vary widely. Be specific.


Question from on May 09, 2022

When writing addresses, words such as alley, drive, road, terrace, etc. are always are spelled out. They are also capitalized when part of a formal name without a number; in lowercase when used alone or with two or more names. Does that mean 201 Blue Ridge road is correct?

Answer

It's 201 Blue Ridge Road, assuming that's one address. Two or more names means two or more places, not two or more words within one address: McAllister and Garner roads.



Question from Boulder, Colorado, on May 16, 2022

If an event starts on the hour but ends on the half hour (or any other time) do you use :00 and :30? Or just :30 for the "off hour" time? For example, which is correct: the event is from 6:00-7:30 or 6-7:30?

Answer

The latter is correct.


Question from Louisville, Kentucky, on April 19, 2022

How is the holiday, 4-20, written?

Answer

We use a slash: 4/20.


Question from Kalamazoo, Michigan, on April 14, 2022

Has AP determined a consistent way to reference the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.  Does it conform to rule for dates: Jan. 6?  Or is there a special rule that makes it January 6th or January Sixth? 

Answer

It follows our standard style for dates: Jan. 6.


Question from Texas, on May 18, 2022

Is it a "2-day outage" or "two-day outage"?

Answer

A two-day outage, in our style.


Question from California, on May 18, 2022

We've followed APs change from using numerals for all grades to spelling out grades one to nine. But "K-eight" or "K-six" when referring to a school with grades kindergarten through eighth or kindergarten through sixth  just looks weird to me. But is that what AP style now dictates? 

Answer

As far as I know, we've never used numerals for grades nine and under in references such as second grade or fourth grader. (The 1977 Stylebook, for example, uses words rather than numerals for grades nine and under.)

We don't have a specific style on K-8 or K-6, but I agree that's the better choice (using the numeral) and is in line with other numeral/letter combinations such as 3D.


Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on May 13, 2022

Hello! I had a question on numerals for test scores (academic or otherwise), and I want to make sure this is separate from treatment of sports statistics. Does #1 below sound right? Thanks.
1) She answered seven of the 12 questions correctly. The class average was 8.2 out of 12, and students who got at least nine answers right were allowed extra recess time.
2) She answered 7 of the 12 questions correctly. The class average was 8.2 out of 12, and students who got at least 9 answers right were allowed extra recess time.

Answer

Option 1 is correct.


Question from Waukesha, Wisconsin, on May 10, 2022

Would the format be: After ranking in the top 3 positions ... or After ranking in the top three positions ...? I have been spelling 3 out, but need to confirm that is correct. Thank you. 

Answer

.... one of the top three positions. Here's the guidance:

Capitalize the word top if it’s part of the formal name of a list or a shortened version of a formal list: the AP Top 25, Spotify’s Global Top 50; the rapper has a number of Top 10 pop hits. Lowercase in informal uses: It’s regarded as one of the top five parks in the state.


Question from Texas, on April 29, 2022

Is it a 7-week outage or a seven-week outage?

Answer

A seven-week outage.


Question from Syracuse, New York, on May 18, 2022

"Making, keeping or breaking promises are part of daily human interactions."
 
I think it should be "is." What do you say?

Answer

Definitely is, since or is the connector and what follows takes a singular verb.
But:
Making, keeping and breaking promises are part of daily human interactions.


Question from Texas, on April 28, 2022

Does the sentence need "has" averaged as in the first sentence? 

Generation has averaged 20% and 40% for LOS Units 1 and 2.

Generation averaged 20% and 40% for LOS Units 1 and 2.

Answer

If it's a set period of time that has passed, no has: It averaged 20% in March.
If it's ongoing, use has: It has averaged 20% from March 1 to the present.


Question from Leesburg, Virginia, on March 21, 2022

For our organization, "state championships" references a singular event made up of multiple competitions, so we treat it as a singular.

The SkillsUSA Georgia State Championships is coming this spring.

Where this gets a little confusing is within subsequent references. Would we maintain that singularity throughout?

The SkillsUSA Georgia State Championships is coming this spring. The state championships (is/are) attended by thousands each year.

Also, is lowercase appropriate there on the second reference? Thanks so much. 

Answer

Really, I'd use the plural verb when using the full name of the event. I understand that it's a singular event (with multiple competitions). But using the singular creates the confusion and problem on later references that you're now trying to solve. I also would venture that the singular on first reference could leave a lot of readers thinking you're ... wrong.

Maybe rephrase by adding the word "event," if you don't want to use the plural: The SkillsUSA Georgia State Championships event is coming this spring.

On later references, definitely the plural verb, and lowercase.




Question from on Feb. 23, 2022

Which is correct to write:  "She also will join me in the office." or "She will also join me in the office." I thought the rule was to not split the main verb and its auxiliary.

Answer

Some people may adhere to that rule or belief, but we don't.
Here's our guidance:


verbs 


The abbreviation v. is used in this book to identify the spelling of the verb forms of words frequently misspelled.
SPLIT FORMS: In many cases, splitting the infinitive or compound forms of a verb is necessary to convey meaning and make a sentence easy to read. Such constructions are acceptable. For example: Those who lie are often found out. How has your health been? The budget was tentatively approved. Let readability and comprehension be your guide. If splitting a verb results in an awkward sentence, don’t do it. She wants to write clearly, not She wants to clearly write.



Question from Faribault, Minnesota, on Feb. 05, 2022

Hello! 

Overthinking things here. Would you use "were" or "was" in this sentence? 

There were $2.9 million in additional commitments to lend to borrowers. 

Answer

Overthinking is us. (??)

Use were. It becomes a lot easier when you think of it this way: 2.9 million dollars in additional commitments ...



Question from Moline, Illinois, on May 18, 2022

When quoting within a quote, you are to use single quotes, but what happens when you're quoting within quotes in a headline?

Example: 'It's like Lord of the Flies': Bettendorf staff says middle school is out of control

Answer

That's a messy one! We'd try to avoid such situations, though I agree that this is a good quote and a catchy headline.

Maybe redo it along these lines: Like 'Lord of the Flies'? Bettendorf staff says middle school is out of control

Otherwise, there's not a good way to do the punctuation.


Question from Omaha, Nebraska, on May 17, 2022

When ending a sentence with scare quotes, does the period go inside or outside the quotation marks? For example: 

Help make our Bill & Ted themed party an "excellent adventure."

Is the period properly placed? What if it was an exclamation mark? Would that change things?

Answer

See this section of the quotation marks entry.

PLACEMENT WITH OTHER PUNCTUATION: Follow these long-established printers' rules:
The period and the comma always go within the quotation marks.
The dash, the semicolon, the colon, the question mark and the exclamation point go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted matter only. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.

Elaboration from the exclamation point entry:

PLACEMENT WITH QUOTES: Place the mark inside quotation marks when it is part of the quoted material: "How wonderful!" he exclaimed. "Never!" she shouted.
Place the mark outside quotation marks when it is not part of the quoted material: I hated reading Spenser's "Faerie Queene"!


Question from Austin, on May 16, 2022

Good afternoon! Am I using hyphens correctly in this sentence? Thank you!  "We’ve also automated Control Center-operated pipeline start-ups, shut-downs and steady-state operation." 

Answer

Our style is startups and shutdowns. Otherwise it looks good.


Question from Austin, Texas, on May 12, 2022

It looks like AP no longer puts single quotes around megadrought. Is that the style now?

Answer

We use single quote marks only in headlines. AP stories routinely use the term megadrought, with no quote marks but with an explanation. For example:

Across the American West, a 22-year megadrought deepened so much last year that the region is now in the driest spell in at least 1,200 years — a worst-case climate change scenario playing out in real time, a study found last month. 


Question from Lewiston, Idaho, on May 10, 2022

Would you use hyphens in "dam-versus-fish debate," or go without?

Riverborne transportation and hydropower production are both central to the dam-versus-fish debate. 

Answer

Definitely hyphenate as a modifier. You could also abbreviate as vs. in this use, but I think as a modifier it's easier to read with the full word rather than dam-vs.-fish debate. Here's the entry:


versus 


Spell it out in ordinary speech and writing: The proposal to revamp Medicare versus proposals to reform Medicare and Medicaid at the same time ... In short expressions, however, the abbreviation vs. is permitted: The issue of guns vs. butter has long been with us.
For court cases, use v.: Marbury v. Madison.


Question from Longmont, Colorado, on April 08, 2022

How should I pluralize PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substance)?

Answer

Our style is PFAS for both the singular and plural. Here's the entry.


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