Big changes to AP Stylebook come from two tiny bits of punctuation: % and –

First in a series

Two punctuation marks account for the biggest changes to the Associated Press Stylebook this year. The tiny hyphen is being removed from many places where it was once used, and % — the percent symbol — is coming into its own.

The AP Stylebook goes through a big update every spring with the release of a new print version. The marketing for the new book always speaks of “more than 200 new and modified entries,” but only a few changes tend stand out in a given year: lowercasing the “i” in “internet” (2016); removing the hyphen from “email” (2011); the acceptance of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun in certain cases (2017).

This year is an exception — many changes stand out. Multiple blog entries will be needed to get through them all before the May 29 release of the 2019 edition.

The changes are already in place in the online version of the book, and editors now must decide whether and how quickly to implement them. Every publication is different, with its

The cover of the 2019 Associated Press Stylebook, set for release in late May.

own style quirks. Even though the AP Stylebook is the main style guide for much of the news business and those in the fields of marketing, public relations and corporate communication, it only strictly applies to those who write and edit for the Associated Press. Others are free to embrace whatever portions of the book they prefer.

Many said no way when AP did away with state abbreviations in copy (2014), for example. (The thinking is that state abbreviations such as Mich., Ala., Fla. are not easily recognizable to an international audience — or often a domestic audience. Personally, I’m happy to not have to think about which state is which.)

The biggest annual AP Stylebook changes are traditionally announced at the annual conference of ACES: The Society for Editing. This year’s conference took place in Providence, Rhode Island, at the end of March, and a roomful of editors gasped, groaned, and cheered their way through a presentation by Stylebook lead editor Paula Froke.

The wow moment

ACES, also known as the American Copy Editors Society, started out as an organization of news journalists, and its conference attracts many editors who rely on AP Style. The Associated Press has been a guest at this conference for years. I was there in the front row, waiting for this year’s “wow.” There were several, but one in particular brought an audible gasp.

The new book’s guidance says: “Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases.” An exception is in casual use, such as “a zero percent chance.”

I’ll take a closer look at this change in my next post.

The use of the percent symbol is probably the biggest change, but there are many important changes in how we use hyphens — they are removed from ethnic American designations such as Asian American, removed from many compound modifiers, and removed from prefixes that form a double “e.” The book also adds guidance on when to call a racist act racist — one item in new umbrella category of race-related coverage. Other notable changes: data usually takes a singular verb, accent marks are now OK in names if that’s the person’s preference, the parenthetical “sic” should be avoided, and there is no rule (really) against split infinitives. I’ll explore these other changes in coming blog posts.

The 2019 edition publishes May 29, but the updates are already reflected in the subscription-based online AP Stylebook.

Here is an article on the changes from the ACES conference. The AP Style Blog also has a short summary.  And Merrill Perlman took a good look at the AP Stylebook changes, starting with this column on AP’s focus on terms and news coverage having to do with race and racism. All of Perlman’s blogs for Columbia Journalism Review can be found here.

For tweets about the session, you can search the hashtag #ACESAPStyle. There are a lot of them.

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