Ask the Editor Style Guidance

Ask the Editor highlights

Ask the Editor is a forum on writing, style and phrasing issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook. AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke fields questions posed by subscribers to AP Stylebook Online. Below is a sampling of recent questions Paula has answered.

Click on a topic below to learn more about AP style:

Question from Fitchburg, Wisconsin, on June 30, 2022

Would you use the abbreviated "No. 2" within a quote attributed to someone or would you spell it out as "number two"? 
Example:  "The campaign was built to revitalize the No. 2 brand in the market," said Jentz. 

Answer

It depends on whether the quote was spoken or written. If spoken, use No. 2, our style. If written, and the person writes number two, retain the style used by the person.

Here's the guidance from the quotations in the news entry:

When quoting spoken words, present them in the format that reflects AP style: No. 1, St., Gov., $3. But quotes should not be changed otherwise for reasons of style. If the speaker says towards, do not change it to toward.

When quoting written words, retain the style used by the writer; do not alter the written words even if they don’t match AP style.


Question from Smithfield, Virginia, on June 28, 2022

Do we spell out state names when used with a city in our news stories?

Answer

We spell out state names with cities (but we use no state names with cities that stand alone, as listed in the datelines entry).
Up to you on whether you want to follow our style. 

Question from New Orleans, Louisiana, on June 25, 2022

What's your opinion on using O&M (operations and maintenance) on first reference? Generally I'd spell it out, but this is for the blog of a water purification company.

Answer

We don't use it on any reference, since we write for a general audience. But if it works for your specialized audience and makes sense to your readers, go for it.


Question from Raleigh, North Carolina, on June 22, 2022

Hello! Looking for guidance on using HIPAA-compliant.  Your guidance says to avoid using the acronym HIPAA at all: Where possible avoid using the term, which is an acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Instead refer to privacy laws or the federal law restricting release of medical information. If HIPAA is used in a quote, explain it.) But your HIPAA-compliant entry doesn't say anything about avoiding the acronym "HIPAA-compliant." Is HIPAA-compliant OK, but HIPAA when used alone should be avoided? Thanks!

Answer

We don't have an entry on HIPAA-compliant. I see there was an Ask the Editor answer that advises using the hyphen if someone else is using the term. That should have made clear that we'd prefer not to use the term at all. Instead, we'd use more words: The program complies with the federal law restricting release of medical information.

If your audience commonly uses and understands the shorthand HIPAA, then it's fine to use.


Question from on June 22, 2022

Having a time deciding where to put this question mark: 
What is a Public Private Partnership? (P3)
What is a Public Private Partnership (P3)?  
Many thanks for your assistance.

Answer

We don't use abbreviations in parentheses as you do in your example. But if you have to do it, put the question mark after the parenthetical (your second example).


Question from on June 07, 2022

Is it Negroni cocktail or negroni cocktail?

Answer

It's Negroni cocktail, with the proper name element capitalized. Webster's New World College Dictionary provides the background:

Negroni  n. [[It, said to be after C. Negroni, count in Florence who invented this combination of ingredients (early 1900s?)]] [often n-] a cocktail of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth


Question from New York, New York, on June 07, 2022

Hi,

I've reviewed the cryptocurrency/blockchain entry, but would just like confirmation/clarity on the following:

Any reference to a cryptocurrency, whether the blockchain technology or the coin itself, should now be lowercase. Before I believe the technology was capitalized, but coins were lowercase.

Thanks for the help!

Answer

We revised the guidance this year to make it all lowercase.


Question from on May 30, 2022

Would "sound" in the name of an inlet or passage of water follow the same capitalization rule as bodies of water such as rivers or oceans (e.g., Santa Rosa Sound)?

Answer

Yes, capitalize as part of a proper name: Puget Sound. Lowercase when standing alone: the sound.


Question from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 24, 2022

If I am writing, "Toni Morrison's books were no. 1 on the best novels list," how should I notate "no. 1"? Per AP guidelines, I've been usually writing it as "No. 1" but should I make it lowercase when it's within a sentence?

Answer

Our style is uppercase in all uses. Her books were No. 1 on the list at Lovett Memorial Library in the city's Mt. Airy neighborhood. (I couldn't resist.)

Question from South Carolina, on May 17, 2022

Hello! What is correct?

1. She holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing from...
2. She holds a bachelor of science in nursing from...
3. She holds of Bachelor of Science in Nursing from...

Previous entries used #1 but a recent AP News story has all lowercase. Article link: https://apnews.com/article/oklahoma-f5238ff1041bd730c66b7c38d61aa420

Thanks for any help on this!

Answer

The first one is correct. AP staffers sometimes make mistakes or don't know every point of style.


Question from on June 10, 2022

I've seen increasing references to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot as 1/6, a la 9/11. Is perhaps some guidance forthcoming? Thanks

Answer

We'd prefer for now not to use 1/6 other than in headlines. It does occasionally sneak into AP stories. That doesn't mean it's sanctioned by the Stylebook team. We will continue to monitor usage.


Question from Boulder, Colorado, on May 16, 2022

If an event starts on the hour but ends on the half hour (or any other time) do you use :00 and :30? Or just :30 for the "off hour" time? For example, which is correct: the event is from 6:00-7:30 or 6-7:30?

Answer

The latter is correct.


Question from Louisville, Kentucky, on April 19, 2022

How is the holiday, 4-20, written?

Answer

We use a slash: 4/20.


Question from Kalamazoo, Michigan, on April 14, 2022

Has AP determined a consistent way to reference the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.  Does it conform to rule for dates: Jan. 6?  Or is there a special rule that makes it January 6th or January Sixth? 

Answer

It follows our standard style for dates: Jan. 6.


Question from Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 22, 2022

Hello. My company eagerly embraces many trendy management philosophies that often come with their own subsidiary buzzwords. I see you recommend lower case for "lean process" but capitalizing Agile as a formally named methodology. Within the lean process are steps acolytes have dubbed the "8 wastes" and "5 whys." Would you spell out the numerals, and would you capitalize these subprocesses?

Answer

This is a bit outside what we cover. Our style, of course, in general is to spell out one through nine  – with a whole bunch of exceptions. So far, trendy management philosophies and their subsidiary buzzwords aren't included in the exceptions. And we avoid excessive use of uppercase. So in theory, we'd probably prefer "eight wastes" and "five whys." BUT: It appears from my online searches that if you want to fit in with the crowd that does use those terms, the numerals and the capital letter is the way to go. Often, individuals or groups do need to vary from our formal style to suit their own needs and audiences. You might even do without the quotation marks, if your audience is familiar with the terms. Just choose a style that seems consistent with what most of your audience and/or users use and understand, and stick with it.




Question from Washington DC, on June 08, 2022

I seem to recall that you recently changed AP style to use the % sign instead of spelling out the word percent. But the guide still says to spell it out. Did you reverse that decision, or am I imagining it all?

Answer

Where are you seeing guidance to spell it out? This is the current entry, which has remained unchanged since we started using the % sign a few years ago:


percent, percentage, percentage points 


Use the % sign when paired with a number, with no space, in most cases (a change in 2019): Average hourly pay rose 3.1% from a year ago; her mortgage rate is 4.75%; about 60% of Americans agreed; he won 56.2% of the vote. Use figures: 1%, 4 percentage points.

For amounts less than 1%, precede the decimal with a zero: The cost of living rose 0.6%.

In casual uses, use words rather than figures and numbers: She said he has a zero percent chance of winning.

At the start of a sentence: Try to avoid this construction. If it’s necessary to start a sentence with a percentage, spell out both: Eighty-nine percent of sentences don’t have to begin with a number.

Constructions with the % sign take a singular verb when standing alone or when a singular word follows an of construction: The teacher said 60% was a failing grade. He said 50% of the membership was there.

It takes a plural verb when a plural word follows an of construction: He said 50% of the members were there.

Use decimals, not fractions, in percentages: Her mortgage rate is 4.5%.

For a range, 12% to 15%, 12%-15% and between 12% and 15% are all acceptable.

Use percentage, rather than percent, when not paired with a number: The percentage of people agreeing is small.

Be careful not to confuse percent with percentage point. A change from 10% to 13% is a rise of 3 percentage points. This is not equal to a 3% change; rather, it’s a 30% increase.

Usage: Republicans passed a 0.25 percentage point tax cut. Not: Republicans passed a 0.25 percentage points tax cut or Republicans passed a tax cut of 0.25 of a percentage point.

Question from Williamstown, Massachusetts, on June 01, 2022

I'm resubmitting this question from May 20 because I didn't receive a response: 
What is AP style when it comes to numbering but not ranking? Would it be "baby number three" or "baby No. 3" if referring to a child with two older siblings (but not necessarily two higher-ranking ones)? Thanks in advance!

Answer

We'd stick with No. 3. It doesn't mean the child is the third-ranked, but that the child is the third one in birth order. But if you prefer number 3, that's just fine.



Question from on May 30, 2022

Hello, if gas prices are 4.619 should I say for television broadcast that they are 4.61 ir 4.62

Answer

We shorten to two decimal points, rounding up if needed. In your example, $4.62.


Question from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on May 24, 2022

I believe the correct way to go in a headline would be to state someone won "three 2nd place awards" though I am unsure about whether it should be "three second place awards" in the article text. Which is it? Thanks a million!

Answer

In headlines: 3 2nd-place awards. In text: three second-place awards.


Question from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 27, 2022

I am having trouble figuring out the verb tense when a sentence contains a list. For example, which of the two is correct:
"I wanted to ask if there is additional information, documents, or resources you have access to."
Or,
"I wanted to ask if there are additional information, documents, or resources you have access to."

Should it be "are" because there are multiple things listed, or should it be "is" because the first listed item, "information," is singular. I also get confused because this list uses "or" instead of "and." I imagine that if this list used "and," it would be more evident that the verb tense should be plural.

Answer

It should be is, for the reason you surmise. 

Or make it easier on yourself:

"I wanted to ask if there are additional documents, resources or other information you have access to."  (Because this is a very simple series, we don't use the Oxford comma.)

And by the way, I have a Little Free Library here in Philly. Thank you for all you do!


Question from Bangalore, on June 23, 2022

It displays the total number of tasks that need/needs to be executed based on the filters selected.

Which is correct here? Do we apply "the expression 'the number of' takes the singular verb" rule here?

Answer

Does the number need to be completed, or do the tasks need to be completed? I guess you could argue for the former. But I'd use the latter: the total number of tasks that need to be completed ...


Question from Denver, Colorado, on June 15, 2022

When the boundaries of a city and county are identical, as in the City and County of Denver, should the combination take a singular verb, as in "The City and County of Denver is..."?

Answer

I see from https://www.denvergov.org that there is an entity formally called the City and County of Denver (as opposed to the general terms the city and county of Denver).

If you are referring to that entity, use the singular verb: The City and County of Denver is planning a program to help people pay property taxes.

Note: Generally our style is to use lowercase: the city of Philadelphia. But I could see arguments for capitalizing in the Denver case when referring to the government entity. It helps specity the actual government organization and activities related to it, vs. general references to the area.

But if you're talking generally about Denver city and county, use lowercase. Or often simply Denver works. 




Question from Tokyo, on June 07, 2022

I've searched for an answer to this perennial question, but haven't found it -- apologies if I've missed it!

Should we use a plural or singular verb here? Prevent or prevents?

"The shame and fear that they will not be believed prevent many male victims from speaking about their experiences."

Answer

In this case, it clearly is two distinct concepts: the shame, and the fear that they will not be believed. So use a plural verb, as you have it.


Question from Washington, District of Columbia, on May 26, 2022

I thought I read in the stylebook that "staff" is singular and used the way "group" and "team" are used. As in, "the staff/group/team is outside" or "staff/group/team members are involved." But not, "the staff/group/team are joining us." But I don't see "staff" as an entry. Could you please clarify whether "staff" is always singular? Thank you.  

Answer

Staff generally takes a singular verb. There may be times when plural works better and isn't necessarily wrong. Or, better, here's my response to a similar question last year:

I'd rephrase it, which has the added benefit of making people sound more like people. Staff members at the hospital ...


Question from Chula Vista, California, on June 28, 2022

I'm a longtime lover of the semicolon, but this is the first I'm seeing it used to connect more than two independent clauses. Does this hold up as a use for "literary effect" in the following sentence, or does it need to be broken down into multiple sentences?

Various sources say he came from Bristol, England; or perhaps he was the son of a local man with connections to the provincial governor; alternatively, he was raised in Jamaica by respectable English parents and trained as a mariner.

Thank you!

Answer

I suppose it could hold up as a literary device. I don't think there's anything really wrong with it.

But I think breaking it into three sentences would be equally effective in a literary sort of way. That would have the added benefit of being easier for busy and easily distracted readers to read. I may be feeling particularly busy and easily distracted today.

Note: When began trying to break it into three sentences, I realized that it's not clear what the "various sources" are saying. The way it reads (either with the semicolons or as three sentences), the various sources are talking about Bristol, England. Then the next two possibilities have no attribution.

Here's another version:

His background is a bit unclear. Some say he came from Bristol, England. Others think he was the son of a local man with connections to the provincial governor. Or maybe he was raised in Jamaica by respectable English parents and trained as a mariner.

Another note: I hesitate about "respectable" in the last segment.


Question from Williamstown, Massachusetts, on June 16, 2022

How would you style the following article title?
  1. The Skeptics Guide to Acupuncture
  2. The Skeptics' Guide to Acupuncture
  3. The Skeptic's Guide to Acupuncture

It seems like it would be a descriptive phrase (option 1), but it somehow seems off. Does it make a difference if "The" describes "Skeptic" rather than "Acupuncture"?

Answer

Descriptive phrases can be open to debate and often do fall into the realm of possessives in these constructions. Arguments could be made for any of your options. I'd use No. 3. It personalizes it more: one skeptic (Emily, the person who's considering it).  "Oh, he's talking to ME! I will read this!"


Question from on June 16, 2022

I understand enterprisewide is one word but what about as a modifier? Would it be hyphenated in theses cases? For instance:  enterprise-wide programs, enterprise-wide approach, enterprise-wide adoption

Answer

Our style is no hyphen with -wide constructions in any use. (You may not like it  –  I don't like it! – but that's what it is.) If you prefer to use the hyphen, go for it.


Question from on June 12, 2022

Would the compound modifier "ranked choice"  be hyphenated, as in ranked-choice voting?

Answer

No hyphen in that use. From the 2020 Elections Topical Guide:

ranked choice voting

An electoral system in which voters rank their choice of candidate by ordered preference, with those rankings used to determine a winner in the event no candidate wins a majority of ballots on which they appear as voters' first preference. No hyphen in the compound modifier. Ranked voting is acceptable on subsequent references and in headlines. Avoid the abbreviation RCV unless in quotations.


Question from New York, New York, on June 10, 2022

Is it "data-center-scale operations" or "data center-scale operations"?

Answer

The latter.
From the hyphen entry:

MULTIPLE COMPOUND MODIFIERS: If the phrase is easily recognized without hyphens, use a hyphen only to link last element: They hope to spark consumer interest in department store-based shopping. She said assistant vice president-managed courses should include real estate licensing-related materials. (Again, rephrasing may be a better option.)


Question from Longmont, Colorado, on April 08, 2022

How should I pluralize PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substance)?

Answer

Our style is PFAS for both the singular and plural. Here's the entry.


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