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Ask the Editor provides answers, clarification and guidance on style issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. Before posing a question to AP editor David Minthorn, search the accompanying style archives for your topic. With thousands of questions and answers on file, your topic has very likely been covered. For typical style questions and responses, visit Ask the Editor FAQ.

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Ask the Editor questions from the past week:

Q. Sue helps her students find their voice and their passion as writers - or - Sue helps her students find their voices and their passions as writers – from Elgin, Ill. on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. The plural, though that phrase is a cliche. Better to be more specific about Sue's influence on her writing students.

Q. Is this the correct way to write the following expression when you mean with regard to risk management? risk managementwise – from Raleigh, N.C. on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. It looks awfully contrived. Better to rephrase: regarding risk management.

Q. Is this use of the colon incorrect? "Risks may include: surgical complications, infection, failure to deliver therapy as needed and/or worsening of some symptoms." Thanks for your expertise. – from Minneapolis on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. No colon in that construction. And rather than the slash, or suffices for the last item in the series.

Q. I believe that according to AP style, the phrase "dirty-energy" to modify a noun, like "industry" should be hyphenated. But it's not hyphenated in much of what I am seeing, such as in this NYT headline: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/opinion/22tue1.html?_r=0 Hyphenate or no? – from Boston on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. No, dirty energy either standing alone or preceding another noun isn't hyphenated in AP stories.

Q. Should enterprisewide be hyphenated? – from Temecula CA, Calif. on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. No, but it's awkward. Better to rephrase: e.g., throughout the enterprise or company.

Q. For an invitation, is this the proper way to invite guests? "You and a guest are invited to join me and New York Yankee shortstop Alex Rodriguez for an evening to celebrate..." – on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. You might rephrase slightly to underline the two-person limit for the invitation: You and one other guest are invited ...

Q. Under "organizations and institutions," the section on INTERNAL ELEMENTS says to lower case internal elements of an organization when they have names that are widely used generic terms, such as the board of trustees of Columbia University. Our university has a board of governors. I saw board of governors capitalized in other instances, such as the Academy Awards Board of Governors. Would it be capitalized in reference to a university's governing board? – from Warrensburg, Mo. on Thu, Aug 21, 2014

A. AP would lowercase the university's board of governors.

Q. Is ring-bearer correct? – from Houston on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. In AP news stories, there's no hyphen in ring bearer.

Q. I have a reoccuring problem with the guidance that an end period punctuation always goes inside the quote. I work in an industry full of jargon and technical terms. A quote can easily be interpreted as including the end punctuation, and this is often incorrect. For example: If I want the sentence: Search for the file "jo.ex". If I write it, Search for the file "jo.ex." I should expect the person doing the search to search for "jo.ex." and NOT "jo.ex", but "jo.ex" is absolutely correct, and "jo.ex." is absolutely wrong, since the search will never find "jo.ex.," since "jo.ex." will never exist. Instead, only "jo.ex" does, and "jo.ex" is definitely NOT the same thing as "jo.ex." I submit that if the quoted text is to be interpreted as EXACTLY what is in the quotes, it is indeed correct to follow the quote with the punctuation, and not embed the punctuation within the quotes. Is this correct or incorrect? Alternate emphasis for "jo.ex" is not always possible as the text may very well be plain text, and may not support bold or italics characters. – from Minneapols, Minn. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. If it's a problem, rewrite the sentence to place the file name within the text, instead of at the end. Here's an example: Search for the "jo.ex" file name. Also, see the Stylebook's "Internet" for other suggestions.

Q. Which is correct: "oldest continually occupied city" or "oldest continuously occupied city"; "oldest continually celebrated event" or "oldest continuously celebrated event"? Thank you. – from Cerrillos, N.M. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. Either could be correct. See the "continual, continuous" entry for an explanation of these terms.

Q. Is the body of water on the Georgia-South Carolina border called Hartwell Lake or Lake Hartwell? – from Greenville, S.C. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. AP stories from South Carolina usually call it Lake Hartwell.

Q. "Roskam is now in his fourth term in Congress." Is the proper way to state the number of terms served as "fourth" or "4th"? – from Falls Church, Va. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. It's fourth. Spell out ordinals under 10th.

Q. Is stating "...the political environment in Washington" acceptable or should Washington be stated as Washington, D.C., or, Capitol Hill? – from Falls Church, Va. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. It's clear in a news story if the dateline is WASHINGTON.

Q. Do I need to write out HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)on the first reference? – from Falls Church, Va. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. The abbreviation is acceptable.

Q. Can something be described as "centuries-old" if it is between 100 and 200 years old? – from Houston, Texas on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. Reserve centuries-old for 200 years or 300 years and above.

Q. Many sports team names end in "s" and we're struggling with whether an apostrophe is needed: He purchased Royals' tickets (or Royals tickets); the group attended a Royals' game (or Royals game). My argument is that neither is really possessive, so no apostrophe is needed, but I can't find any authoritative guidance on this. How would you handle it? – from Kansas City, Mo. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. No apostrophe in those references. It's covered in the DESCRIPTIVE PHRASES section of the Stylebook's "apostrophe" entry.

Q. In retail, should an inventory turn number be spelled out, three vs. 3, for instance? – from LAKE MARY, Fla. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. Better check an accounting reference for advice on expressing the inventory turn number.

Q. In 1980, President Ronald Reagan . . . Is the comma needed after 1980? I've seen it both ways in numerous publications. – from Reading, Pa. on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. Short introductory phrases don't require commas.

Q. The term "engagement" is being used a lot of late with regard to western involvment in Iraq. Should it be used purely in the context of military involvement, or does "engagement" also entail other involvment (e.g. humanitarian aid, etc.)? – from Koeln, XX on Wed, Aug 20, 2014

A. Engagement is also used in diplomacy. Humanitarian aid can be an element of a policy of diplomatic or military engagement -- bilateral or multilateral.

Q. Style says now to spell out state names in body copy. Does this apply to photo captions (cutlines)? – from Dayton, Ohio on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. To save space, AP photo captions retained AP state abbreviations for city-state localities.

Q. Can probe and investigation be used interchangeably? – from Virginia, XX on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. An investigation suggests something more formal than a probe, though probe is sometimes used in a follow-up reference for variety.

Q. Which is correct: The government has stepped up crackdowns on offshore banking to increase its 'tax revenue or tax revenues' ? – from Virginia, XX on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. The government has stepped up crackdowns on offshore banking to increase tax revenues.

Q. In headlines, is avg an acceptable abbreviation of average? – from Seoul, XX on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. Yes, avg is occasionally used in sports headlines.

Q. In articles about swimming and horse racing, when referring to the middle portions of a race, is mid-stretch(es) an acceptable term? EX) Smith needs to improve his time in mid-stretches. – from Virginia, XX on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. No hyphen in midstretch or midstretches.

Q. I work in the financial services industry. Should ex be hyphenated when it means excluding, such as "the company reported EPS of $1.00 per share (ex options expense)"? The word excluding would not likely be written out in parentheses as in the sentence shown. – from St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. Write out excluding. Also, write out earnings per share on first use.

Q. How do I write events happening on multiple days within the same month? Should it be: The play will be performed on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5 OR The play will be performed on Dec. 3 and 5 – from Renton, Wash. on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. The play will be performed on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5.

Q. Clarifying: Spell out state names for elected officials? Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont? or "D-Vt."? – from Florence, Ala. on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Q. I prepare oil and gas data and have never encountered this in my prior writing experience. When listing production numbers in the thousands, in a series, do you set off the numbers with semicolons like in a complicated list, or do you just keep the commas as I've done here: "The field has produced 56.2 million cu ft of gas, 65,493 bbls of crude and 788,607 bbls of water." (Alternatively: 56.2 million cu ft of gas; 65,493 bbls of crude; and 788,607 bbls of water.) – from Houston on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. Use commas.

Q. One of our local school districts refers to tests administered 9 weeks into a semester as nine-weeks tests. How would that be written in proper AP style? – from Pekin, Ill. on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. Tests administered nine weeks into the semester are nine-weeks tests or ninth week tests.

Q. Is "Congressional members" an acceptable alternative term for "members of Congress"? – from Falls Church, Va. on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. Yes, but spell congressional lowercase per that Stylebook entry.

Q. Our organization has a new title position known as an administrator-on-call. Would that be the correct way to write it? – from Orlando, Fla. on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. Looks fine as you have it.

Q. What is the proper use of I? As in "please send it to Susan, John and I?" Should it be I or me? I await your response. Thanks. – from Rosemead, Calif. on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. In this construction, the correct pronoun is me -- first person singular in the objective case.

Q. What is the proper way to reference The Oprah Winfrey Show from the 1980s? The Oprah Winfrey Show or Oprah Winfrey? Should the title be in Italics? ex. "Every day after school, I%uFFFDd go to my grandmother%uFFFDs to watch Oprah.%uFFFD – from Falls Church, Va. on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. You can look up the TV show's name from that era. If you use the formal name within your direct quote, enclose it with single quotes.

Q. Is it "The red wine was well-balanced" or "the red wine was well balanced"? I've read the advice here on using a hyphen with "well" after the noun when used with a form of the verb "to be," such as "The company is well-known for ..." and "time well-spent." So I thought "well" was mostly hyphenated. But I stumbed on this from AP's statement of news values and principles: "And we should not attribute information to anonymous sources when it is obvious or well known." – from Japan on Tue, Aug 19, 2014

A. The red wine was well-balanced. I'll look into hyphenating the other spelling you mention. Thanks.

Q. The two banks' management or the two banks' managements – from Richmond, XX on Mon, Aug 18, 2014

A. Either could be correct. The first example suggests the managers are the same for both banks. The second suggests separate managers for the two banks.

Q. Emeritus is added after a formal title, check. Where does it fall when dealing with a formal named professorship? Acme Corporation professor of business administration would become Acme Corporation professor emeritus of business administration or Acme Corporation professor of business administration emeritus? Please and thank you. – from Charlottesville, Va. on Mon, Aug 18, 2014

A. Try simplifying for your audience, a la: John Doe was the Acme Corp. professor of business administration until his retirement in 2013. He's now professor emeritus.

Q. Scoured the stylebook and couldn't find an answer, so I'll check here. What is the appropriate term for a web page field that already has information in it - auto-populated? Pre-populated? And would the term be hyphenated? Thanks! – from Alexandria, Va. on Mon, Aug 18, 2014

A. Neither term appears in the AP archive or the Stylebook. Try a specialized online technology reference covering Web page information.

Q. ....were based on the results of a legislatively-prescribed process Is the hyphen use correct in this example? – from St. Paul , Minn. on Mon, Aug 18, 2014

A. No hyphen in legislatively prescribed.

Q. "Many years later, that still sounds like good advice to me." Is that sentence OK when the advice is something that was read, not something that was heard? – from Half Moon Bay, Calif. on Mon, Aug 18, 2014

A. Correct.

Q. The Stylebook lists "problem-solving" as hyphenated, but a past Ask the Editor question suggested that "problem solver" is usually not hyphenated. Which of these is correct then: "problem solve" or "problem-solve"? Thank you! – from Buffalo, N.Y. on Mon, Aug 18, 2014

A. Probably the hyphenated form, though AP stories use either depending on the context or placement in the sentence.

Q. For references to approximate time, do you need "at about" or would "about" suffice? Example: He was traveling east on Tar Dam Road at about 11:20 p.m. and hit a deer. Thanks. – from Shawano, Wis. on Mon, Aug 18, 2014

A. At 11:20 p.m. suggests a precise time. About 11:20 p.m. means an approximation. Choose one or the other for the phrasing.

Q. In an article, it reads that a soldier has been accused of beating one subordinate and sexually assaulting another one. For the headline is it OK to write: Soldier accused of beating, sexually assaulting 2 subordinates? – from Virginia, XX on Sat, Aug 16, 2014

A. No, the phrasing suggests both subordinates suffered same two abuses.

Q. Which (if any) is correct: ...Payment Card Industry Security Standards? ...payment card industry security standards? ...Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standards? – from Annapolis, MD on Fri, Aug 15, 2014

A. Lowercase: payment card industry security standards.

Q. what is the proper abbreviation of piece and pieces when referencing to materials? Should it be all caps, lowercase or Titlecase? – from Magnolia, Texas on Fri, Aug 15, 2014

A. Dictionary lists pc, shorthand for piece. Add s for the plural, and include a period for both forms. AP might use such abbreviations in a tight-space situation, such as graphic.

Q. What is the AP Style preference for capitalization of "State" if it is NOT a second reference? e.g., For information on how the State manages its resources, follow the link below. Lowercase the "S"? – from Wethersfield, Conn. on Fri, Aug 15, 2014

A. Lowercase the state.

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