Abbreviations and Acronyms
General Rules1) Do not use abbreviations or acronyms on first reference.
- Exceptions: AFC, AFL-CIO, CEO, CIA, CNN, CPR, DNA, DUI/DWI, DVD, FBI, FM, GPA, IBM, Interpol, LPGA, LSD, NASCAR, NATO, NBA, NCAA, NFC, NFL, NHL, NPR, PGA, PTA, RAM, UFO, UNESCO, UNICEF, USGA, VCR
- Correct: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends yearly vaccinations.
- Incorrect: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends yearly vaccinations.
- Acceptable on second reference: ACLU, AMA, ASPCA, CBC, CDC, DNS, DVR, DEA, EPA, EEOC, FAA, FCC, FDIC, FEMA, FHA, the Fed, GOP, IM, IUD, IT, MRSA, NEA, NLRB, NOW, TVA, U.N., ICE, WMD, WHO
- Correct: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends yearly vaccinations. According to the CDC, vaccines save lives.
- Incorrect: The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations increases access to vaccines in developing nations. GAVI has funded immunizations for over 370 million children.
- Correct: A.D., B.C., U.S., U.N.
- Incorrect: AD, BC, US, UN
- Exceptions: AP, GI, ID, EU
- Correct: ABC, CNN, FBI, IBM, USA
- Incorrect: A.B.C., C.N.N., F.B.I., I.B.M., U.S.A.
- Correct: Nasdaq
- Incorrect: NASDAQ
- Correct: Athens and other Greek cities revolted in 88 B.C.
- Incorrect: Athens and other Greek cities revolted in 88 B.C..
Days of the Week & Months of the Year1) Never abbreviate days of the week unless they are used in tabular format.
- Correct: The staff wears jerseys on Fridays.
- Incorrect: The games usually fall on Tues. and Thurs.
3) Spell out these months: March, April, May, June and July.
- Correct: The merger is to take place on Dec. 15, 2012.
- Correct: March 13, 2013, is the deadline.
- Incorrect: The event falls on December 12, 2012.
- Incorrect: The company formed on Mar. 17, 2011.
- Correct: August is the best time to go camping.
- Incorrect: By Sept., the nighttime temperatures are too low.
- Example: February 1989 holds the record for snowiest month in history.
- Example: Feb. 24, 1989, had the most amount of snow that month.
United States1) Abbreviate United States when used as an adjective. Use periods.
- Correct: The U.S. population continues to grow.
- Incorrect: United States security is stronger than ever.
- Correct: In the United States, people expect immediate gratification.
- Incorrect: The corporate office is based in the U.S.
State Abbreviations1) Spell out the names of the 50 U.S. states, whether standing alone or in conjunction with a city, town, village or military base.
- Correct: The event is in Lansing, Michigan.
- Incorrect: The office moved to Lansing, Mich., two months ago.
- Example: She traveled from St. Louis, Missouri, to Denver, Colorado.
- Correct: The main office is at 332 S. Center St., Green Bay, WI, 54301.
- Incorrect: The stadium is in Green Bay, WI.
Units of Measurement1) Do not use abbreviations for units of measurement; spell them out instead.
2) Always use figures before units of measurement.
- Correct: The flood left 3 feet of water in the basement.
- Incorrect: It snowed 8 in. last night.
- Incorrect: It snowed eight inches last night.
Academic Degrees1) If mention of degrees is necessary to establish a person’s credentials, avoid abbreviations, and use phrases such as “Mary Snow, who has a doctorate in English literature.”
2) Use abbreviations such as B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. only when the need to identify many individuals by degree on first reference would make the preferred form cumbersome. Use these abbreviations only after a full name — never after just a last name.
- Correct: Jane Smith, B.A., Terry Hughes, Ph.D., and Jenny Jones, M.A., agree that William Shakespeare was indeed the author of the works attributed to him.
- Incorrect: Jane Smith, who has a bachelor’s degree in English literature, Terry Hughes, who has a doctorate in British literature, and Jenny Jones, who has a master’s degree in Shakespeare Studies, agree that William Shakespeare was indeed the author of the works attributed to him.
- Example: Brittany Dalton, Ph.D., spoke at the university Friday.
5) Do not use an apostrophe for “Bachelor of Science,” “Master of Arts,” etc.
6) "Associate degree” (no possessive), not “associate’s degree”
I.e. vs. E.g.1) In general, avoid using “i.e.” and “e.g.” unless absolutely necessary.
2) “I.e.” means “that is to say” and is always followed by a comma.
3) “E.g.” means “for example” and is always followed by a comma.
Etc. vs. Et al.1) In general, avoid using “etc.” and “et al.” unless absolutely necessary.
2) “Etc.” means “and so forth” and should be used when referring to things.
3) “Et al.” means “and others” and should be used when referring to people.
- Apostrophes are used to show omission, show plurals of single letters and show possession.
- Never use apostrophes with personal or relative pronouns to show possession (e.g., its, hers, his, theirs, whose, etc.). Correct: The giraffe is tall. Its legs are very long.
- Incorrect: The lion rolled over on it's back.
- When using an apostrophe with a pronoun to show possession, make sure you're intending to form a contraction as opposed to the possessive (your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s, whose vs. who’s).
Show OmissionOmission of letters: An apostrophe notes the omission of letters at the beginning, middle or end of a word.
- rock ‘n’ roll
- 1920s to ‘20s
- class of 1978 to class of ‘78
Show Plurals of LettersRule: Apostrophes are used to show the plural form of single letters.
- The student earned four A’s and two B’s.
- Dot your i’s, and cross your t’s.
Show PossessionPlural nouns ending in s: Add only the apostrophe to show possession.
- the girls’ room
- the horses’ corral
- the states’ borders
- the CEOs’ dining area
- shingles’ symptoms
- the news’ headlines
- the two deer’s antlers
- the scissors’ blades
- the two fish’s scales
- United States’ security
- Smith Brothers’ profit
- the waitress’s aprons
- the waitress’ shifts
- the girl’s room
- the horse’s corral
- the state’s borders
- the CEO’s dining area
- Exception: Words ending with an ‘s’ sound that are followed by a word starting with s. In these cases, add only the apostrophe to show possession.
- appearance’ sake, but appearance’s cost
- conscience’ sake, but conscience’s voice
- Mr. Jones’
- Curtis’ hat
- anyone’s guess
- others’ choices
- another’s opportunity
- anyone else’s opinion
- the lieutenant governor’s mansions (one governor)
- the lieutenant governors’ mansion (more than one governor)
- a writers cheat sheet
- Green Bay Packers defensive lineman
- a cheat sheet for writers
- a defensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers
- symptoms of shingles, not shingles’ symptoms
- the headlines of the news, not the news’ headlines
- Examples of joint ownership:
- Sammie and Beth’s office
- Maggie and Sam’s desk
- Examples of individual ownership:
- Sammie’s and Beth’s offices
- Maggie’s and Sam’s desks
Title CaseWhen composing titles or headings that mandate the use of title case, use the following guidelines:
1. Capitalize all nouns, adverbs, pronouns, adjectives and verbs.
- Examples: am, is, are, was, were, be, etc.
- Do NOT use contractions.
3. Capitalize all words when they are the first and last words in a title.
4. Do not capitalize articles or coordinating conjunctions (a, an, the, and, but, for).
5. In hyphenated words, follow the same rules of capitalization for the word following the hyphen as you would for the word before it.
- Correct: Next-Generation Solutions
- Incorrect: Next-generation Solutions
- Examples: eBay, iTunes; EBay, ITunes when starting a sentence or title.
- Correct: Going Into Business With a Partner
- Incorrect: Going into Business with a Partner
- Correct: Using iTunes to Build Your Music Library
- Incorrect: Using ITunes to Build Your Music Library
Sentence CaseRule: When composing titles, headings or subheadings that require sentence case, capitalize only the first letter of the first word and the first letter of any subsequent proper nouns. Omit end punctuation marks.
- Correct: No-mess ways of keeping out rodents
- Incorrect: No-mess Ways of Keeping out Rodents.
Directions and RegionsRule: Compass points are generally lowercase unless they are used as part of a proper noun or to describe an entire region.
- Correct: No one on the West Coast eats bacon, but he’s from the South.
- Incorrect: Munchkin farmers raised aerial pigs in the Western portion of Kansas.
- Examples of Common Usages
- Compass directions: The historic storm moved west across the region. They traveled east.
- Regions: The Western states, the East Coast, the Northeast, Southern recipes, most settlers in the area were Northerners, Southeast Asia, South Pacific
- With nations (general): northern United States, western Canada, eastern Australia
- With nations (as proper name or politically divided country): North Korea, Northern Ireland
- With states and cities (directional/area descriptions): northern Illinois, southern Milwaukee
- With states and cities (widely known sections/proper names): Lower East Side of New York, Southern California, the South Side of Chicago, West Texas, South Dakota, West Virginia
- Forming proper names (region/location): North Woods, North Pole, Far East, Middle East, West Coast (entire region), Eastern Shore, Northern Hemisphere
Cocktail Drinks and WinesRule: Generally, keep the names of all cocktail drinks lowercase. Capitalize wines named for regions, and use lowercase for wines named for varietals.
Exceptions: Scotch whisky and similar constructions where the drink relies on a proper noun for its meaning.
- Correct: The bloody mary, margarita and old fashioned are popular drinks, so keep your bar well-stocked with the necessary ingredients for your next get-together.
- Incorrect: Know the difference between a Dry Martini, Dirty Martini and Sweet Martini to accommodate all your martini-drinking guests.
- Scotch whisky: A particular type of whiskey made in Scotland distilled from malted barley dried over a peat fire. Lowercase scotch and use the spelling whiskey in all other instances.
- Jamaica rum: not Jamaican rum
Wine names that are capitalized: Beaujolais, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Chianti, Madeira, Marsala
When in doubt, please use http://www.yourdictionary.com for clarification on capitalization of cocktail drinks and wines.
Military RanksRule: Military ranks are not capitalized unless they are used directly in front of a name.
- Correct: In July 2008, Ann Dunwoody became the first female four-star general in the history of the U.S. Army.
- Incorrect: As part of their duties, Command Sergeant Majors in the Army are generally responsible for the appearance, conduct, performance and training of 3,000 to 5,000 enlisted personnel.
- Correct: The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is Gen. John Jones.
- Incorrect: The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is general John Jones.
- See a list of correct title capitalization and abbreviations for military ranks here: http://apstylebook.blogspot.com/search/label/military%20titles
Military Ratings/Military Occupational SpecialtiesRule: Military ratings/military occupational specialties (MOS) are different than ranks, and they require lowercase in all circumstances; do NOT capitalize them even when they precede a name.
- Correct: Aircraft electrician, cavalry scout, chemical operations specialist and combat engineer are job options in the Army.
- Incorrect: Wire Chief, Field Radio Operator and Data Network Specialist are Marine jobs that fall under the communications occupational field.
Other Military Terminology
- servicemen, servicewomen, service members (not servicemembers)
- soldiers (Army), sailors (Navy), airmen (Air Force), Marines
- military, U.S. military, U.S. armed forces or U.S. troops (as a whole)
- U.S. Military Academy, but academy when used alone
- cadet - men/women enrolled in Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies
- midshipman - men/women enrolled in the Naval Academy
- Colons are most commonly used at the end of a sentence to introduce texts, tabulations and lists.
- Only capitalize what follows a colon when it’s a proper noun or the start of an independent sentence.
- Colons go outside of quotations marks unless the colon is part of a direct quotation.
- Never combine a dash and a colon.
Connecting two independent sentencesRule: Use a colon when one independent sentence introduces a second independent sentence.
- Example: He gave this promise to employees: No one is losing his job.
- Example: The CEO announced plans for growth within the company: The new office build-out begins on Monday.
Introducing a listRule: Use a colon to introduce a list at the end of a complete sentence.
- Example: There are three main employee costs: compensation, overhead and insurance.
Showing emphasisRule: Use a colon to create emphasis.
- Example: Rick does only one thing after work: sleeps.
Introducing quotationsRule: Use a colon to introduce quotations of more than one sentence within a paragraph and at the end of paragraphs that introduce a paragraph of quoted material.
- Only use commas when necessary for clarity or when following a particular rule.
- For help with commas outside of rules explained in this guide, AP defers to the comma usage guide in Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.
- Use commas consistently in similar situations throughout an entire article.
Commas in a Series (Serial Comma)Simple series: Separate elements in a series, but omit the comma right before the conjunction in a simple series.
- Example: Before you start, collect signatures, addresses and contact emails.
- Example: The complimentary breakfast consists of hash browns, toast, and ham and eggs.
- Example: XYZ Company handles start-ups, mergers and acquisitions, and buyouts.
- Example: The big difference lies in whether you intend to visit each part of the city, whether you want to hit all the major cultural exhibits, or whether you want to take in some of the city’s hidden gems.
Commas With ConjunctionsCompound sentences: Use a comma before coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for; mnemonic FANBOYS) that connect two complete sentences.
- Example: The writer followed AP style, and he referenced his guide frequently.
- Example: They plan on visiting the museums and intend to catch a play as well (The clauses share the subject “they.”).
- Example: Connect the pieces, and sand the rough edges.
Commas With Direct QuotationsIntroducing direct quotations: Use a comma when introducing direct quotes consisting of one sentence within a paragraph, and do not use a comma when quoting a partial or indirect quotation.
- Example: Jordan says, “The trip to Russia was an experience the students are unlikely to forget.”
- Example: He claimed the experience was “one of the best of his life.”
Attributing direct quotations to a source: Use a comma and not a period after a direct quotation to show attribution.
- Example: “The night is still young,” stated her date.
Commas With Adjectives (Coordinate Adjectives)Adjectives with equal rank: Use commas between adjectives that are equal in rank. When you can replace a comma with “and” without changing the meaning, the adjectives are equal.
- Example: a long, winding road
- Example: a brightly lit, crime-free area
- Example: an expensive fur coat (fur coat is a noun phrase)
- Example: the yellow baseball cap (baseball cap is a noun phrase)
Commas With Essential/Nonessential Clauses and PhrasesRule: Offset nonessential clauses and phrases with a comma. Omit offsetting commas with essential clauses and phrases.
- Example: Writers who don’t proofread their work should not get upset over editorial comments.
- Example: Writers, especially the ones who clearly don’t proofread, should not take issue with comments from an editor.
Commas With Introductory ElementsFour words or greater: Use a comma between an introductory clause or phrase and the main clause.
- Example: When you no longer enjoy city life, move to the country.
- Example: During the day you do not need to lock the door.
Commas With Hometowns/AgesRule: Use offsetting commas when a person’s hometown or age is used as an appositive.
- Example: Samuel Perkins, Kansas City, Missouri, finished in first place.
- Example: Sarah Jenkins, 37, was the first on the scene.
Commas With DatesRule: When referring to only a month and a year, do not set off the year with commas.
- Example: February 1989 holds the record for snowiest month in history.
- Example: February 24, 1989, had the most amount of snow that month.
- A company’s formal name should appear at least once in an article.
- To look up a publicly traded company’s formal name, consult the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq.
- Even if it’s included in the formal name, do not use a comma after Ltd. or Inc.
Spelling and CapitalizationRule: Follow the official spelling and capitalization for company names.
- Example: eBay, not Ebay
- Example: EBay is an easy way to sell things you no longer want but that still have value.
- Example: BMW
- Example: Ikea
- Example: USA Today
Company Names With SymbolsRule: Omit symbols from company names to avoid distracting readers.
- Example: Yahoo, not Yahoo!
- Example: Google Plus, not Google+
- Example: E-Trade, not E*Trade
- Example: Toys R Us, not Toys “R” Us
Company Names With AmpersandsRule: Include the ampersand only if it is part of a company's official name; do not replace the word "and" in a company name.
Company Names With "the"Rule: Capitalize "the" only if it is part of a company's official name; otherwise leave lowercase.
Conjunctions - Coordinating and Subordinate
Coordinating ConjunctionsRule: Do NOT begin sentences with coordinating conjunctions:
Subordinate ConjunctionsRule: A subordinate clause begins with a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun. It must contain both a subject and a verb. It does not form an independent sentence because it is an incomplete thought.
|even||even if||even though||if||once|
|rather than||since||so that||than||that|
Rule: It is acceptable to begin a sentence with a subordinate conjunction. Use commas after subordinate clauses that begin sentences.
- Correct: Because of the rigorous basic training, stay prepared by getting into shape before you enlist.
- Incorrect: While you wait do not touch any other keys on your keyboard. (The sentence should have a comma after “wait.”)
- Exception: Use a preceding comma if “while” is used to mean “whereas,” or if you are showing contrast (with “whereas,” for example).
- Correct: Create a long-term plan that fits seamlessly into your lifestyle when you want a weight-loss plan that keeps those pesky pounds off permanently.
- Incorrect: You are considered for an interview, once you fill out an application.
- Correct: The bigger grill is a better choice if you host outdoor parties, while the smaller one is ideal if you generally cook only for a small family. ("While” is used to mean “whereas” and shows a contrast, so the comma is necessary; when “while” is used to mean “at the same time,” no preceding comma is used.)
- Incorrect: The museum’s history is rich with examples although some are more notable than others. ("Some are more notable than others” is not essential to the meaning of the sentence; it’s bonus information. Therefore, “although” should be preceded with a comma.)
- Correct: Fold the remaining blueberries into the batter, even if you think stirring is faster, to prevent smashing them.
- Incorrect: The rivalry between the schools while fierce in more modern times started rather mildly over 100 years ago. ("While fierce in more modern times” should be offset with commas.)
ContractionsRule: Contractions may be used, but avoid overusing them. Stick with those that appear in the dictionary and are commonly used in everyday speech and writing.
Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers
Dangling ModifiersRule: Avoid ambiguous sentence constructions in which a modifying phrase applies to the wrong word or to no word at all.
- Correct: Lying on her back, the child notices a bunny in the clouds. (“Lying on her back” appropriately modifies “the child,” but if it was supposed to modify "the bunny," it would be a dangling modifier.)
- Incorrect: As a professional, a tie makes or breaks your interview outfit. (“As a professional” should be modifying the implied subject "you," but as written, it technically modifies "tie."
Misplaced ModifiersRule: Do not separate modifying words or phrases (i.e. adjectives, adverbs, phrases or “that” clauses) from the word(s) they are intended to modify.
- Correct: The dog called Jack has a good home. (“Called Jack” correctly modifies “dog.”)
- Incorrect: The parents give a kitten to their daughter named Fluffy. (Is the kitten’s name Fluffy, or the daughter’s?)
- Correct: You failed to meet almost every deadline. (You failed to meet the majority of the deadlines.)
- Incorrect: You almost failed to meet every deadline. (You came close to missing every deadline.)
- Dashes are used to set off a series within a phrase, to indicate an abrupt change or to show emphasis.
- Always put a single space on both sides of a dash unless it’s used to replace a bullet point.
- Never use a dash and a colon together.
For a Series Within a PhraseRule: Use offsetting dashes when a series that is separated by commas is used within a phrase that requires offsetting commas.
- Example: Making sure your new cat has the right supplies – a litter box, kitty litter, food dishes and toys – is a must-do step in preparing to bring your pet home.
For an Abrupt Change or PauseRule: Use a dash to show an abrupt change in thought within a sentence or to show an emphatic pause.
- Example: The CEO introduced a new policy – one that employees would not easily support – at the company-wide meeting.
- Example: Their vacation is scheduled for December – as long as everything goes according to plan.
For AttributionRule: Use a dash in front of the author or composer of a quote.
- Example: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” – Albert Einstein.
Evergreen ContentRule: The content you are writing must live online for many years; it must be free of time-sensitive adjectives, seasonal advice, and/or prices or dates that are subject to change.
Rule: Items such as phone numbers, addresses and other types of contact information are not evergreen.
- Correct: Use these tips to lose weight quickly to gain a healthier life.
- Incorrect: Use these tips to lose weight quickly for this summer bikini season.
- Correct: These appetizers are ideal for a casual get-together or laid-back barbecue.
- Incorrect: Try these trendy appetizers for this summer’s Independence Day celebration.
- Correct: The museum is open throughout the week and offers guided tours.
- Incorrect: Currently, the museum is open every day except Sunday, and it offers guided tours for $12.
- Exclamation points are most commonly used with emphatic expressions, but they are also sometimes part of a direct quotation.
- Use exclamation points sparingly.
- Never use a comma or period after an exclamation mark.
Emphatic ExpressionsRule: Use exclamation points to show very strong emotions, degrees of surprise or levels of incredulity.
Placement With Quotation MarksRule: Place the exclamation point inside the quotation mark if it’s part of a quotation and outside the quotation mark if it’s not part of a quotation.
- Example: “Stop!” the police yelled at the fleeing suspect.
- Example: I fell asleep reading Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”!
Avoiding OveruseRule: Use a comma after mild interjections, and use periods after mildly exclamatory sentences.
Filler ContentRule: Writer must provide content that is valuable to the reader.
- Correct: A majority of competitive swimmers use Swedish goggles, which are notable for the lack of seal or gasket around the cup of the eye.
- Incorrect: Swimming goggles, which are used to protect your eyes from water, are used by a majority of competitive swimmers.
- Correct: Thoroughly clean the affected area prior to applying the ointment.
- Incorrect: It is necessary not only to clean but to thoroughly clean the affected area prior to applying the ointment.
- Content that is already covered
- Content that does not add value to the focus of the task
- Content that contains obvious information
Fluff ContentRule: Avoid using unnecessary and subjective adjectives to pad word counts. If it does not add value or information to the sentence, remove it.
- Correct: ‘Silk Painting and Batik’ (Project Book) is an excellent resource for learning how to use wax and paint to create inspired decorative items for your home.
- Incorrect: This is a great book by a talented author. It gives you dramatically clearer insight into the art of using wax and paint to create gorgeous and inspired decorative items for your home.
Narrative VoiceRule: Second and third person narratives are acceptable; however, writers must maintain a consistent narrative voice within each paragraph.
- First person: NOT PERMITTED (I, we, me, my, our, us, etc.)
- Second person: You, your, yours (acceptable for certain tasks; see specific task instructions)
- Third person: He, she, it, they, his, hers, its, etc. (all acceptable)
- Correct: Talk with your primary care physician prior to beginning a new, intense exercise regimen.
- Incorrect: My wife recommends a night trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower to experience the “city of light” fully.
Expert VoiceRule: Do not include vague phrases to deter from an expert-level tone. Do not use “some say” or “people recommend” (these phrases are not acceptable under any circumstance). Use common contractions whenever possible, unless there's a task-specific exception.
- Correct: Chicken pox is fatal in some cases.
- Incorrect: Chicken pox may cause death.
- Correct: The Surgeon General estimates that secondhand smoke significantly increases a nonsmoker’s chance of developing lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.
- Incorrect: Some say that secondhand smoke may significantly increase a non-smoker’s chance of developing lung cancer.
- Correct: Overconsumption of sugar can cause Type 2 diabetes, but family history, weight and lack of exercise play into the equation as well.
- Incorrect: Overconsumption of sugar can cause Type 2 diabetes. (The word “can” is acceptable in the first example because the writer further explained why it might not be the only factor.)
Active/Passive VoiceRule: Write action-driven sentences. The main subject of each sentence must perform the action in active voice.
- Correct: Tie the shoelaces.
- Incorrect: The shoelaces should be tied.
- Correct: Psychiatry majors learn how to treat mental illnesses with appropriate medications.
- Incorrect: Psychology students are taught to counsel and diagnose patients. (The subject is not performing the action, which is “students.”)
- Hyphens join two or more words to form one idea or help avoid ambiguity.
- Use hyphens only when necessary to avoid confusion.
Rule: Use a hyphen when not using the hyphen clouds the intended meaning.
- Example: The CEO intends to speak with a group of small-business men.
“Businessmen” is usually one word; however, it does not make sense here. To show that the sentence refers to a group of men who own or run small businesses, the hyphen is used.
Compound Modifiers (Adjectives)A compound modifier is two or more words that express a single concept.
Rule: When a compound modifier precedes the noun it modifies, use a hyphen with all words in the modifier. Do not hyphenate a compound modifier when one word is “very” or an adverb ending in “ly.”
- Example: a well-known author
- Example: a better-suited alternative
- Example: a greenish-yellow blanket
- Example: a very good cake
- Example: a slyly worded poem
Exception: When a compound modifier that is hyphenated when it’s before the noun it modifies appears after the noun and directly after a form of the verb “to be,” use a hyphen to avoid confusion.
- Example: The author is well-known.
- Example: The student is quick-witted.
- Example: The authors are well-known.
Compound Modifiers That Use Duplicated Vowels or Tripled Consonants
Rule: Use a hyphen to avoid duplicated vowels and tripled consonants for compound modifiers.
- Example: anti-inflammatory
- Example: bell-like
Rule: Use suspensive hyphenation when two hyphenated phrases share a common element.
- Example: short- and long-term investments
- Example: small- and medium-sized businesses
- Example: 10- to 20-year sentence
Rule: With a global audience in mind, avoid using any language that is offensive to any culture or heritage.
- Correct: This Boilermaker variation features stout beer, Irish cream and Irish whiskey.
- Incorrect: Serve Irish car bombs with your favorite salty snack foods. (This is offensive to those of Irish heritage.)
Assumptions About Audience
Rule: Avoid making assumptions about a reader’s sex, age, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, culture or heritage unless relevant to the text. (It's safe to assume marriage, for instance, in an article about divorce proceedings.
- Correct: As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s nutrient intake.
- Incorrect: Use your maternal instinct when deciding whether or not to call the pediatrician. (Assumes the parent is a mother.)
Rule: Avoid making blanket statements and generalizations about your audience. Stick to fact-based content.
- Correct: According to a poll by Zappos, the average woman owns 19 pairs of shoes.
- Incorrect: Everyone knows that all women want a closet full of shoes.
- Correct: Visit your professor during office hours if you have concerns about your performance.
- Incorrect: You want to make sure you talk to your professors. (You don’t know for sure what the reader wants.)
Job Titles/Occupational Descriptions
- Job titles are not capitalized unless they are used as formal titles before a person’s name.
- When not used as a formal title before a name, job titles serve as occupational/job descriptions and are lowercase.
- President Obama gave his second inaugural address.
- The secretary of state heads the U.S. State Department.
- The guest list includes actor Brad Pitt and professional chef Rachael Ray.
- Consider working as a human resources manager.
- The President gave his second inaugural address.
- Secretary of state John Kerry took office after Hillary Clinton.
- Steve Jobs retired as Apple’s Chief Executive Officer in 2011.
- The current Pope is unlikely to retire.
"Like" vs. "Such as"Rule: Use “like” to show comparisons or something that is “similar to” a given thing.
- Example: Clementines are like tiny oranges.
- Example: He ate like a pig.
- Example: Medications such as aspirin help to relive pain.
- Example: Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin.
- Example: The results are used for purposes such as clarifying and condensing information.
- Example: Words such as street, avenue, and road are abbreviated only in addresses.
- Spell out numbers one through nine; use figures for 10 or above.
- Exception: Always use figures for numerals preceding units of measure; ages of people, animals, events or things; and all tabular and statistical data. Additional exceptions are discussed in the sections that follow.
- Do not make two sets of numbers parallel by breaking the normal construction.
- Correct: There were five boys and 11 girls.
- Incorrect: There were 5 boys and 11 girls.
AgesRule: Always use figures for ages. When “years” or “years old” are not required within the context, the figure for ages is assumed to be years.
- The house is 10 years old.
- Her daughter is 17.
- His son is 2 years old.
- The doctor has a 3-year-old girl (adjective before a noun).
- The medication is approved for 2-year-olds.
Beginning a Sentence
Rule: Spell out numerals at the beginning of a sentence. The only exception is numerals identifying a calendar year.
- Correct: Last semester, 898 new freshmen attended the college.
- Correct: 2012 saw the highest amount spent on presidential elections in history.
- Incorrect: 898 new freshmen attended the college last semester.
Decimal UnitsRule: Decimal units are shown with numerals and a period. Do not exceed two decimal places in text unless there is a special circumstance.
- 15.7 cubic feet
- 35.35 meters
- 6.3 kilometers
- 0.75 cubic foot
- 0.45 meter
- 0.90 kilometer
Degrees of TemperatureRule: Use figures for all temperatures except zero. For temps below zero, use a word, not the minus sign.
- The low yesterday was minus 11.
- Yesterday’s low was 11 below zero.
- 8-degree temperatures
- temperatures fell 8 degrees
- temperatures in the 20s (no apostrophe)
- Correct: Temperatures during the day are rising.
- Correct: Temperatures during the day are getting higher.
- Incorrect: Temperatures are getting warmer during the day.
Celsius and FahrenheitRule: When the scales are required, use “degrees Celsius” or "degrees Fahrenheit."
Rule: When the degrees and scale are clear, use “C” or "F" with a space between the figure and the C or F and no period for the abbreviation.
- 37 degrees Celsius or 37 C
- 78 degrees Fahrenheit or 78 F
DimensionsRule: Use figures, and spell out the unit of measurement for depth, height, length and width.
Rule: For adjectival forms in front of nouns, use hyphens.
- She is 5 feet 8 inches tall.
- The 5-foot-8-inch girl...
- The 5-foot girl...
- The crawl space is 16 feet long, 8 feet wide and 4 feet high.
- The bedroom is 10 feet by 13 feet.
- The 10-by-13 bedroom...
- Last night 8 inches of snow fell.
DistancesRule: Use numerals for all distances.
- She runs 5 miles daily.
- She walks a total of 20 miles every week.
FractionsAmounts less than 1
Rule: Spell out with hyphens between words.
Rule: Use a full space between the whole number and the fraction.
- 1 ½
- 12 ⅞
RuleSpell : the word “cents” in all lowercase, and use it with figures and no dollar sign for amounts less than a dollar.
- 7 cents
- 89 cents
Rule: Use the dollar sign and figures unless it’s a casual reference or an amount without a figure.
- The game cost $15.
- Please give her a dollar.
- Dollars saved add up over time.
Less than $1 million
Rule: Use figures with dollar signs and appropriate commas.
More than $1 million
Rule: Use two decimal places, and omit hyphens between a figure and a word.
- The company is worth $5.45 million.
- The company is worth exactly $5,452,393.
- The company proposed a $200 million budget.
OrdinalsRule: Ordinals are numbers used to indicate order (first, second, 10th, 25th, etc.).
Rule: Spell out first through ninth. Use figures starting with 10th.
- Example: The boy is in fourth grade.
- Example: Peas are the 11th item on my grocery list.
PercentRule: Percent is one word, not two.
Rule: Use figures. For partial numbers, use decimals, not fractions.
- 1 percent
- 3.5 percent
- 11 percent
- 3 percentage points
- Profits only rose 0.8 percent over the first quarter
RangesRule: Use “to” between the figures, or use between/and.
- 11 to 14 percent
- between 11 and 14 children
ProportionsRule: Always use figures for proportions.
- Use 2 parts cement to 1 part water.
SpeedsRule: Always use figures for speeds.
- The car was only moving at 10 mph.
- winds of 10 to 15 mph
- 10-mph wind
- Correct: 8-mph winds
- Incorrect: 8-mile-per-hour winds
WeightsRule: Use figures for all weights, and spell out the unit of measurement. Hyphenate when the weight is in adjectival form before the noun.
- The can weighs 2 pounds, 8 ounces.
- the 2-pound, 8-ounce can
- Capitalize the first word of a direct quotation even if it’s not at the beginning of the sentence.
- When the second part of a quote is separated by attribution, keep it lowercase unless it’s a proper noun.
Direct QuotationsRule: Use quotation marks to surround the exact words of speakers or writers.
Rule: Offset the quotation marks with commas as needed to introduce the quote or give attribution.
- Example: “I plan on leaving,” he answered.
- Example: “It’s really not a big deal,” he said, “I wanted to leave early.”
- Example: Joe whispered, “The secret is out now.”
Partial QuotesRule: When quoting only a phrase, attribution offset with commas isn’t necessary.
A bystander said the accident was “too horrific to even discuss.”
- Example Quote:
She said, “You cannot actually think that will work.”
- Correctly Quoted in Text: She said they couldn’t actually “think that will work.”
- Incorrectly Quoted in Text: She said “they couldn’t actually think that will work.” (She didn't say "they.")
Unnecessary FragmentsRule: Do not put a few ordinary words in quotation marks.
- Correct: Sarah said she would move to Canada if the presidential candidate she voted for lost.
- Incorrect: Sarah said she would “move to Canada” if the presidential candidate she voted for lost.
Typing InstructionsRule: When typing computer-related instructions, enclose any series of keystrokes within quotation marks.
Rule: Place any punctuation outside the quotation marks – even when it breaks the rule for periods and commas.
- Example: Type “chkntfs c:”, and hit Enter.
- Example: Go to the Start Menu. From there, click on Control Panel.
Unfamiliar WordsRule: A word or words may be put in quotation marks when it is first introduced. Omit the quotation marks on subsequent references.
- Example: “Kilohertz” measures broadcast frequencies.
All subsequent references to kilohertz would be without quotation marks.
Referring to Words as WordsRule: When referring to a word as a word, put the word in quotation marks.
- Example: The Spanish word "bailar" means "to dance."
- Example: "Dejected" is used to indicate depression.
Surrounding PunctuationRule: Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.
- Exception: Keystrokes for computer-related instructions
- Parentheses are generally used to show incidental information.
- Parenthetical asides are acceptable as long as they're not too lengthy or used excessively.
- Whether you set off information with commas, em dashes or parentheses will depend on which provides the best flow in the sentence.
Parenthetical FragmentsRule: The period goes outside the closing parenthesis when the parenthetical information is not a complete sentence.
- Example: The sun is shining (which is better than another rainy day).
Stand-Alone Complete SentencesRule: The period goes inside the closing parenthesis when the parenthetical information is an independent sentence.
- Example: The laundry is almost all washed. (There were eight loads when she started washing it.)
Dependent Complete SentencesRule: Omit end punctuation and normal sentence capitalization when an independent sentence enclosed in parentheses is dependent on the rest of the sentence it falls within.
- The drive is shorter (it felt much longer on the return trip) than expected.
Prepositional Verbsverb + preposition
Rule: Prepositional verbs always have direct objects. Prepositional verbs cannot be separated; you cannot put the direct object between the two parts.
- Correct: You must agree to the new guidelines.
- Incorrect: There are new guidelines that you must agree to.
Phrasal Verbsverb + adverb/preposition
Rule: Phrasal verbs can be separated; however, to maintain formal sentence structure, change the preposition to keep the adverb/preposition as close to the verb as possible.
Rule: Remove or change the preposition to avoid ending the sentence with the preposition.
- Correct: After you finish, turn off the light.
- Incorrect: After you finish, turn the light off.
- Example: Be sure to stick around. (Removing "around" would change the meaning.)
- Example: You get what you pay for. (Changing the order would alter the style.)
- A pronoun is a word — such as I, you, he, she, it, they, etc. — that takes the place of a previously named, or otherwise understood, noun or noun phrase (the antecedent).
- Pronouns must have a clear antecedent to avoid confusion.
- Avoid excessive use of pronouns when the subject, object or possessive case is well-established.
Gendered PronounsRule: When using personal pronouns to refer back to an ambiguous person, please pick either “he” or “she,” and stick with it throughout the entire article. Do not use "he or she" or "they."
- Correct: When working with your HR representative, make sure to write her frequently.
- Incorrect: A new HR representative should prepare for issues he or she does not expect.
- A new HR representative should prepare for issues they do not expect.
Possessive Pronouns and Following NounsRule: Nouns following the possessive pronoun "their" must use the appropriate singular/plural format.
Rule: If those represented by “their” share the noun, use the singular form; otherwise, use the plural form.
- Correct: Humans share the responsibility of caring for their planet. (All humans share a planet, so the singular form is appropriate.)
- Incorrect: Many people in the path of the hurricane lost their home. (Unless the victims were all in the same family, it is safe to assume many “homes” were involved, not just one.)
Pronouns Referring to AnimalsRule: Do not apply a personal pronoun to an animal unless its sex has been established or the animal has a name.
- Example: The cat was alarmed; it hissed.
- Example: Rover was alarmed; he growled.
Pronouns With Collective NounsRule: Collective nouns are singular, so they require singular pronouns. Use its, not their.
- Correct: The company sends its well wishes.
- Incorrect: The company sends their well wishes.
Pronoun/Antecedent AgreementRule: To keep pronouns and antecedents in agreement, pronouns must match their antecedents in number. As a general rule, singular antecedents take singular pronouns, and plural antecedents take plural pronouns.
- Correct: The seats for the hockey game are expensive because they're so close to the ice.
- Incorrect: The seats for the hockey game are expensive because it's so close to the ice.
Pronouns and Point of ViewThe three main points of view are first person, second person and third person.
- First person – Never use first person unless it is within a direct quotation or is specifically required for a business website.
- I, me, we, our and us
- Second person – Second person is permissible in more informal pieces of content where directly addressing readers is necessary.
- Third person – Third person is the preferred point of view. It helps keep information more neutral and keeps writing more professional.
- She, he, it and they
- Semicolons are used to create a separation of thought or information. The separation is greater than with a comma but less than with a period.
- Keep the use of semicolons to a minimum.
- Semicolons are one of the exceptions to placement with quotation marks. Place semicolons outside quotation marks.
Between Independent ClausesRule: Semicolons link two related independent clauses when a coordinating conjunction is not used. The second independent clause is not capitalized unless it starts with a proper noun.
- Example: Her gift was supposed to arrive last Friday; it arrived this Monday.
- Example: The dancers took one final bow, hurried off the stage in a flurry of movement, and rushed back to their dressing rooms; but even with their quick retreat, they were unlikely to make it on time for the beginning of the party.
Followed by a NumberRule: When a number immediately follows a semicolon, use figures if the numeral rule calls for them. Unlike with sentences, it’s okay to start the second independent clause with a number within a sentence containing a semicolon.
- Example: Most of the dancers were late; 30 out of 35 of them arrived at least 10 minutes late.
In a SeriesRule: Use semicolons to clarify a series only when absolutely necessary. When the elements in a series are very long or when elements contain other material that must be offset by commas, use semicolons in place of commas.
- Example: She is survived by a daughter, Jane Doe, of New York City; two sons, John Doe, of Flint, Mich., and Joe Doe, of Boston; and a brother, Ken, of Madison, Wis.
Source ReferencesRule: Do not direct a reader to an outside source/website to learn more about a topic. Include all necessary information to cover your content from beginning to end within the content itself.
- According to Cancer.org, over 90 percent of adults are affected each year.
- Ask your doctor before starting any type of weight-loss or exercise regimen.
In the case of precautionary or preventative measures, it is acceptable to direct the reader to ensure the information is applicable.
- W3Schools provides comprehensive tutorials for beginners in web design.
- Monster is a great avenue to find resources for job offerings.
- Visit Cancer.org for more information on how adults are affected each year.
- Practice online with tutorials from W3Schools.com.
- Check out Monster.com and careerbuilder.com for job listings in your area.
Sentence SpacingRule: Use a single space between sentences.
Paragraph SpacingRule: Use paragraph breaks (hit "Enter" twice) to split up long paragraphs.
Split InfinitivesAn infinitive verb is a verb that is preceded by “to” in its root form, such as “to help” or “to swim.” A split infinitive is created when an adverb is placed in the middle of the infinitive (e.g., “to barely help”).
Rule: Avoid creating a split infinitive – move the adverb to the end of the complete infinitive.
- Correct: She was told to exit quickly.
- Correct: The company was expected to evacuate hastily.
- Incorrect: She was told to quickly exit.
- Incorrect: The company was told to hastily evacuate.
- Singular subjects require singular verbs; plural subjects require plural verbs.
- Don’t be misled when a phrase comes between the subject and the verb. The verb must agree with the subject of the sentence, not the noun or noun phrase that comes between the subject and the verb.
- Singular verbs often end in s (dances, flies, walks).
- Plural verbs often end without an s (dance, fly, walk).
Collective NounsRule: Collective nouns are singular. They require singular verbs.
- Correct: The company adds additional employees around Christmas.
- Incorrect: The company add additional employees around Christmas.
Compound Subjects Connected With "and"Rule: When two or more singular subjects (nouns or pronouns) are connected with “and,” use a plural verb.
- Correct: The mayor and his wife are on the way.
- Incorrect: The governor and his daughter is on the way.
Compound Subjects Connected With "or"Rule: When two or more singular subjects (nouns or pronouns) are connected with “or,” use a singular verb.
- Correct: The company representative or the CEO is attending.
- Incorrect: The manager or the supervisor are attending.
- Language continually changes and evolves. With it, terminology and specific spellings and meanings develop for particular words, jargon and new technology.
- For spellings and rules related to specific terminology usage not outlined in this guide, refer to the following:
- First to the official AP Stylebook
- Second to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.
Computer File ExtensionsRule: File extensions are considered technical jargon in most cases and are easily avoided by rewriting the sentence. When writing about file formats, though, it is often essential to include the extension.
Rule: When a file extension is essential, put the extension in quotation marks, and give a brief explanation.
- Example: Installation requires you to download an “.exe” file, a common file type for launching programs.
- Example: JPG or JPEG files are short for Joint Photographic Experts Group, one of two main types of image compression mechanisms on the web.
- Example: JPEG files do not allow you to save the layers within an image; they compress the layers into a simpler file format.
Computer-Related InstructionsRule: When typing computer-related instructions, enclose any series of keystrokes within quotation marks.
Rule: Place any punctuation outside the quotation marks – even when it breaks the rule for periods and commas.
- Type “chkntfs c:”, and hit Enter.
- Go to the Start Menu. From there, click on Control Panel.
Computer and Technical TermsThe following list outlines common terms focusing on computers and technology. Use these preferred spelling and capitalization in AP that’s provided below.
- Ajax, not AJAX
- bit, an abbreviation for binary digits and acceptable in all references
- byte, a computer word made up of bits, or binary numbers
- cellphone, not cell phone
- click-through rate
- email, not e-mail
- gigabyte, kilobyte
- Google Plus, not Google+
- web pages
Internet and Social Media TermsThe following list of terms contains the preferred spelling and capitalization for terms related to social media.
|friend, follow, like||geolocation||geotagging||Google Plus||Google, Googling, Googled|
|modified tweet||Myspace||retweet||RSS||scraping, mirroring|
|search engine optimization||smartphone||social media||social media optimization||social networks|
|text messaging, instant messaging||trending||Tumblr||unfollow|
|unfriend||user interface||VoIP||WAP||website, web, web page|
"That" vs. "Which"Rule: WHICH is used with a comma to introduce a non-essential clause (can be left out without changing the meaning of a sentence).
- Correct: Brush your teeth with toothpaste containing abrasives, which constitute about 50 percent of typical toothpaste.
- Incorrect: Brush your teeth with toothpaste containing abrasives that constitute about 50 percent of typical toothpaste.
- Correct: Dogs that are hypoallergenic tend to shed and affect allergy sufferers less.
- Incorrect: Dogs, which are hypoallergenic, tend to shed and affect allergy sufferers less.
- Example: The woman said Tuesday that she had left her purse at home.
- make clear
- point out
Verb TenseRule: Keep your writing in present tense; avoid using instances of "will," "you'll" and "won't." Future tense is not acceptable.
Exception: You may use past tense when it applies to a historical event or deceased person. If a brief mention of a historical event is needed, then it can be incorporated with a present tense sentence; however, if a full section (or article) needs to be dedicated to a past event, then just make sure that the tense is consistent throughout the section or article.
- Correct: The Horton Hospital, which was founded in 1856, is the premier facility for treatment of despondent Whos.
- Incorrect: The Horton Hospital for Despondent Whos was founded in 1856.
- Use a.m. and p.m. for time listings whenever possible.
- In general, spell out the number of hours, minutes, days, years, etc. when less than 10.
- Use official names for time periods when it’s applicable.
Hours, Minutes, Seconds; Days, Months, YearsRule: Spell out numbers less than 10 when preceding hours, minutes, seconds, days, months, years, etc.
- Example: He worked for eight hours.
- Example: The referee announced a two-minute warning.
- Example: The famine lasted five years.
- Example: He held his breath for 11 seconds.
Historical Periods of TimeWidely recognized epochs
Rule: Anthropology, archaeology, geology and history all speak of historical periods of time with official names. Capitalize these as proper nouns.
- Example: the Bronze Age
- Example: the Dark Ages
- Example: the Middle Ages
Rule: Capitalize those with official names.
- Example: the Boston Tea Party
- Example: the Great Depression
- Example: Prohibition
Rule: Capitalize proper nouns and proper adjectives only in descriptions of general periods.
- Example: classical Rome
- Example: the Victorian era
Rule: Use ordinal numbers for 10 and above; spell out numerals for nine and below. Use lowercase letters.
- Example: the sixth century
- Example: the 19th century
- Example: mid-19th century
Time of DayRule: Use figures for all times of day except noon and midnight, and separate hours from minutes with a colon. Use periods for a.m. and p.m. abbreviations.
- Example: 10 a.m.
- Example: 3 p.m.
- Example: 4:30 p.m.
Rule: Use midnight and noon, not 12 a.m. and 12 p.m.
- Correct: The birthday party starts at noon and ends at midnight.
- Incorrect: The party starts at 12 p.m. and ends at 12 a.m.
Rule: If both times are in either the a.m. or p.m., use a hyphen between the figures, and include the abbreviation only once. If one time is a.m. and the other is p.m., use “to” between the times while using the abbreviations for each.
- Example: 2-5 p.m.
- Example: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Rule: Omit “morning” and “tonight” when using a.m. and p.m.
- Correct: 8 a.m.
- Correct: 8 p.m.
- Correct: 8 a.m. Tuesday
- Incorrect: 8 a.m. this morning
- Incorrect: 8 p.m. tonight
- Incorrect: 8 a.m. Tuesday morning
TitlesWorks that receive title case and quotations:
- book titles
- computer game titles
- movie titles
- opera titles
- play titles
- poem titles
- album and song titles
- radio and television programs titles
- titles of lectures
- titles of works of art
- the “CBS Evening News”
- “Brave New World”
- “Gone With the Wind”
- “Mona Lisa”
- “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”
- Encylopaedia Britannica
Software TitlesRule: Capitalize using the rules for composition titles, but do not use quotations around software titles.
- Microsoft Office
Smartphone and Game App TitlesRule: Regular, non-gaming apps are not put in quotation marks, but they are capitalized according to the rules for composition titles. The word “application” is not capitalized.
- Netflix app
- “Angry Birds”
Websites and App (Non-Game) TitlesRule: The names of most websites and apps (that are not game apps) are capitalized without quotation marks.
- Kindle app
- “Mafia Wars”
"Who" vs. "Whom"
- If you can replace the pronoun with “he,” the correct choice is “who.” If using “he” is awkward, “whom” is the correct choice. Do the same trick using “they” for plural constructions.
- When the preposition “to” precedes the pronoun, “whom” is the correct choice.
WhoRule: Use this pronoun when referring to humans and animals with a name. It’s always the subject of a sentence, clause or phrase and never the object.
- The boy who fell during recess appears to be unharmed.
- Who is knocking on the door?
- Her mother, who is also a professor of law, has law licenses in three states.
WhomRule: Use this pronoun when someone is the object of a preposition or verb.
- The doctor to whom she was referred specialized in rare diseases.
- Whom do you wish to ask?