- Avoid unnecessary capital letters.
- Avoid alphabet soup (tons of abbreviations).
- If the capitalization rule for a word isn’t listed in the AP Stylebook, then consult your organization's default dictionary.
- Capitalize nouns that identify persons, places or things (John, Mary, America, Boston, England).
- Capitalize words when they are part of the full name for a person, place or thing (Democratic Party, Mississippi River, St. George Street, St. Augustine).
- Lowercase common nouns when they stand alone (political party, river, street).
- Lowercase words in plural uses (the Democratic and Republican parties, Main and State streets, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers).
- Hyphens join words together and should be used to help form a single idea from two words or avoid ambiguity in your writing. In general, the fewer hyphens the better.
- Avoid ambiguity: Use a hyphen whenever your sentence’s meaning would be ambiguous without it: “The mayor will speak to small-business women.” “Businesswomen” usually is one word, but “The mayor will speak to small businesswomen” is not clear.
- Compound modifiers: Use a hyphen if a compound modifier precedes a noun, except with the adverb “very” or for adverbs that end in “-ly”: “a first-place medal,” “a part-time job,” “a very dangerous journey,” “an easily forgotten law.” Such combinations are generally not hyphenated if they occur after a noun.
- When a modifier that would be hyphenated before a noun occurs after the noun, but in a form of the verb “to be,” the hyphen must be retained in order to avoid any confusion: “The woman is well-known.” “The child is quick-witted.”
- Two-thought compounds: “serio-comic,” “socio-economic.”
- Prefixes and suffixes: Though many of the most commonly used prefixes and suffixes have their own AP Stylebook entries, a few general rules hold true when it comes to hyphenation.
- You generally don’t hyphenate when using a prefix with a word that starts with a consonant.
Three consistent rules:
–Except for “cooperate” and “coordinate,” use a hyphen if the prefix ends in a vowel and the word that follows begins with the same vowel.
–Use a hyphen if the word that follows is capitalized.
–Use a hyphen to join doubled prefixes: “sub-subparagraph.”
- With numerals: Use a hyphen to separate figures in odds, ratios, scores, some fractions and some vote tabulations.
- For large numbers that must be spelled out, use a hyphen to connect a word ending in “-y” to another word: “twenty-two,” “fifty-eight.”
- AP style now allows for a gender-neutral "they," but only in very specific circumstances. Otherwise "they" should only be used for plurals, not collective singulars.
- To avoid improperly using "they" or overusing the phrase "he or she," you can often pluralize the context. Example: The incorrect "If someone is attacked, they should..." can be simply changed to "If people are attacked, they should..."
- Sports team names are always treated as plural, even when the name is singular (Utah Jazz, Miami Heat, Stanford Cardinal). If this is confusing, can refer to the city or school the team represents as singular.
- Band names can be singular or plural depending on if they end in "s" (Jonas Brothers, Black Keys vs. Maroon 5, Coldplay).
- You can always refer to members of a team or band if the context favors plural references.
- Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name (Mayor Sam Liccardo).
- Lowercase in most other cases (Sam Liccardo, the mayor, loves SJSU).
- Use lowercase for job descriptions that aren’t formal titles (teacher, plumber, accountant, lawyer).
- Use the courtesy titles Mr., Miss, Mrs. Ms. and Dr. only in direct quotes or if someone specifically requests it.
- Use the first and last name without courtesy title when it is necessary to distinguish between two people who use the same last name, as in brothers and sisters.
- Be aware that some publications, such as the New York Times, disagree with AP on this point and use courtesy titles.
Names of people
- In general, use last names only on second reference.
- First reference is the first time you refer to someone in print. Use the full name on first reference. On second reference, use the last name.
- In stories involving young people, use the first name on second reference if the person is 15 or younger. Exceptions: Use the last name if the person is involved in a serious crime, or is an athlete or an entertainer.
- Always use figures. The girl is 15 years old. The dog is 10. The law is 8 years old.
- Use hyphens when ages are used as adjectives before a noun (5-year-old boy).
- Use hyphens when ages are used as substitutes for a noun (The race is for 5-year-olds).
- Don’t use hyphens in other cases. The girl is 8 years old. The cat is 6 years old. The man, 24, has a brother, 22.
- Police arrested Joseph Fripper, 19, of Miami, Florida.
- Use abbreviations of Ave., Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address. Example: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
- If there’s no number, don’t use the abbreviation. Example: Pennsylvania Avenue.
- Spell out alley, drive, road, terrace, circle and similar words. Capitalize these words when used as part of the formal street name.
- Use figures for address numbers. Example: 9 Green Turtle Circle. Incorrect: Nine Green Turtle Circle.
- Spell out the names of all 50 states when the name stands alone in text.
- The names of eight states are never abbreviated in datelines or text: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. How to remember these: Two states are outside the U.S., and the others have five or fewer letters.
Highways and roads
- Use formal names for highways. Examples: U.S. Highway 101, California Highway 1.
- Abbreviate interstate highways after first reference. Example: Interstate 95 on first reference; I-95 after.
- Look up highway and road names to figure out if they are county, state or federal roads.
- Don’t start a sentence with a numeral. Wrong: 993 freshmen entered the college last year. Right: Last year, 993 freshmen entered college.
- Generally, spell out whole numbers below 10. Use figures for 10 and above. (There are exceptions. Always use numerals for ages, for instance).
- Examples: They had three sons. He had 10 cars and two buses. The Smith family had 10 dogs, six cats and 97 hamsters.
- Use hyphens in such cases as these: four-room house, 10-room mansion.
- With currency, use symbols ($, £, €) with numerals for any references to amounts of money under one million. For over one million, spell out basic sums ($1 million), use numerals for specific amounts ($1,356,542) but spell out million, billion etc. and use decimals for larger amounts ($1.3 million).
- Do not use symbols plus the currency name (Wrong: $1 million dollars), but use the name in generic references to the currency ("The value of the dollar has dropped...").
- In general, use days of the week, not today or tonight. correct: Doris Jones shot the intruder Wednesday.
- In a story that is going to be published on the Web immediately and updated later, it’s OK to temporarily use today, this morning, this afternoon, tonight, etc. However, this must be updated later to avoid misleading readers.
- Avoid such phrases as last Tuesday, next month or next week. It’s usually enough to let the verb indicate the time frame. Example: She will return on Tuesday.
Time of day
- Use figures except for noon and midnight.
- Use a colon to separate hours from minutes: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m.
- Wrong: 11 a.m. this morning (redundant).
- Avoid: 4 o’clock (4 a.m. or 4 p.m. is preferred).
- Observe correct style on a.m. and p.m. Wrong: 6 am. Wrong: 6 AM. Wrong: 6 A.M. Wrong: six am.
- When a company’s name or trademark is used, be sure to spell it correctly and use the proper style.
- Examples: Nike, not nike. Coke, not coke.
- Put quote marks around computer game titles, movie titles, opera titles, poem titles, album and song titles, radio and television program titles and the titles of lectures, speeches and works of art.
- Examples: “Gone With the Wind,” and “CBS Evening News.”
- But: NBC-TV “Today” program.
- Don’t put quote marks around the Bible, catalogs of reference, almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks and similar publications. And don’t put quotes around such software titles as Microsoft Word or Windows.
Examples: Encyclopedia Britannica, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft.
- Don’t assume you know all the style rules. Take the time. Look it up.
- Wisdom is knowing when to crack open that book and find out the right way to say it.
- Few people know every single rule and every single exception to the rules.
Adapted from Tracey Eaton's "The Media Jungle," https://themediajungle.wordpress.com/ and Gatehouse Newsroom, http://www.gatehousenewsroom.com/.