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Posted on 06.06.2019

What’s New AP? Stylebook Updates 2019

Each year, AP Style geeks anxiously await release of the new AP Stylebook thinking, “What fresh hell will they unleash this year?”

At first, I was shocked to learn the % symbol is now acceptable in all but casual uses. I was 99% sure there was a zero percent chance! But I’ve adopted this one quickly. The reason we spelled out percent in the first place is quite interesting – credit the teletypesetter (TTS) system first used in the late 1940s to transmit news to local papers, most of which got their out-of-town news from the AP. The TTS had limited characters, the % sign not being one of them, so AP spelled it out and local news followed AP style. Sound familiar?

This year a new health and science chapter will be of interest to health care communicators, particularly excellent guidance about writing about the experiences of patients and families. The AP Stylebook emphasizes medical information should be verified by medical records or physicians. Patients can speak compellingly to their experiences, lives and feelings, but “quote scientists on science.”

A race-related coverage section provides equally thoughtful guidance on how writing about sensitive issues involving race and the importance of precise language. Note the hyphen has been removed this year from African American and other dual heritage terms.

There are always a few sad additions that speak to our societal and cultural issues. This year’s zinger for me is the term deepfake (n., adj.), which is a manipulated video or other digital representation produced by sophisticated machine-learning techniques that yield seemingly realistic, but fabricated, images and sounds. Deepfake video can, for instance, make it appear that people said or did something they did not. 

In the punctuation chapter of the Stylebook, you’ll find additional guidance regarding our friend the hyphen. This loose guidance acknowledges use of the hyphen is far from standard and often optional or a matter of taste of judgement. But surely we can all get behind: “The fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion. … If a hyphen makes the meaning clearer, use it. If it just adds clutter and distraction to the sentence, don’t use it. If the sheer number of hyphens in a phrase, or confusion about how to use them, can daunt either the writer or the reader, try rephrasing.”

Confused about whether your data is or are compelling? AP clarifies data typically takes singular verbs and pronouns when you are writing for general audiences.

Once again, journalistic style and countless English departments are put at odds as the AP Stylebook notes that splitting the infinitive or compound form of a verb is often necessary to make a sentence easy to read. Let readability and comprehension be your guide!

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math departments, meanwhile, will be happy to learn that STEM is acceptable on first reference.

AP Style is the standard for professional newswriting, and professional communicators are expected to know it and use it properly. So buy a new copy, update your online subscription, or follow @APStylebook to help you stay in style for 2019.

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