I guess I’m getting soft. I’m beginning to welcome rather than rebel at some of the AP Stylebook’s updates for 2017.
First, and this one’s controversial, is the singular “they.” WHAT? Yes! Actually, this one was announced in March, but it’s true. “They” is now acceptable as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun if other wording is overly awkward.
The logic: “We offer new advice for two reasons: recognition that the spoken language uses they as singular and we also recognize the need for a pronoun for people who don’t identify as a he or a she,” the lead editor for the AP Stylebook said in a blog post.
The guidance: Clarity is the top priority when using “they” as a genderless pronoun (or when you write anything at all, for that matter). Also, note when “they” is singular, it takes a plural verb.
The example: You can tell a lot about a person by their writing style.
Next in breaking news, not everyone is a “he.” Or a “she” for that matter. AP style was previously to use “he” if gender was unknown. Now use they, them, their or the person’s name. And AP clarifies for us that, “gender refers to a person’s social identity while sex refers to biological characteristics. Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations, so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people.”
And LGBT is now LGBTQ, by the way.
What about the serial comma!? AP insists there is no change in the rule, just in the way the guidance the Stylebook provides on this subject is presented. Bottom line, a serial comma is acceptable if you need it for clarity and should be avoided if unnecessary.
Sadly, “fake news” is now a thing both we and AP must deal with. AP explains, “The term fake news may be used in quotes or as shorthand for the modern phenomenon of deliberate falsehoods or fiction masked as news circulating on the internet. However, do not label as fake news specific or individual news items that are disputed.”
The opposite of fake news would be accurate, factual accounts — often supported by data, right? @APStylebook joined #RaganChat and discussed the new chapter on data journalism. As noted, "Data can give your story authority, if you're clear about the reliability, currency, scope and bias of the numbers," and "if you're writing about data, you need to communicate clearly what the numbers say and where the came from."
Other notable updates include:
• It’s Walmart, not Wal-mart!
• Avoid “baby bump.”
• The addition of Indigenous Peoples Day, which is observed on the same day as Columbus Day to celebrate the original inhabitants of North America.
• You’re a frequent flyer, not a frequent flier. Flyer is also the proper spelling for paper handouts.
• And keep in mind an incident is a small thing. Don’t use incident to describe major or notable events that involve death, destruction, etc.
Why does AP style matter? It creates a set of standards for clear, consistent writing, specifically journalistic writing. To get your AP Style on, check them out:
• On the web: http://www.apstylebook.com/
• On Twitter: http://twitter.com/apstylebook
• On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/apstylebook
Dana Coleman is a vice president at Lovell Communications. Connect with Dana at: Dana@lovell.com
The next time you’re drafting an internal memo or firing off an email to your colleagues, ask yourself: What if it ended up in the hands of a reporter?...