AP Style FAQs: Part 1

01 Mar 2010


Does “city-wide” need a hyphen? If you’re writing about a sculpture, should you italicize the title, or put it in quotation marks?

The truth is, there’s no right answer. In most cases, style choices like this can vary from client to client. But what do you do when your client has no clear preference? Or when the graphic designer and the proofreader clash on where (and when) to use a hyphen?

You refer to The AP Stylebook Online. It’s a great resource for making style choices (and, sometimes, settling disagreements).

One note before you read: The AP Stylebook is a guide, not a set of laws. While we often use AP style (it’s sort of the standard and most people are familiar with it), it’s not the only style guide out there. In some cases, you or your client may decide to make your own rule or create an in-house style guide that picks and chooses which AP rules to follow. That’s okay, too.

That being said, I thought I’d spend a week or two sharing some of our own in-house AP FAQs – the style, formatting, and punctuation issues that most often send us (and our clients) digging for clear answers. Enjoy!

Q: Does the word “city-wide” need a hyphen?
A: Actually, no. According to AP, when you’re using the suffix “-wide,” you don’t need to use a hyphen. Same goes for “statewide,” “nationwide,” and “worldwide.”

Q: Magazine and newspaper titles should always be italicized, right?
A: This one surprised me. According to AP, magazine and newspaper titles should be capitalized, but not italicized. Personally, I disagree with this one (and, unless we’ve got a client who says otherwise, we bend this rule in-house – usually with italics). One note on this, though: Whether you follow this rule or not, pay attention to the words “the” and “magazine.” These words should ONLY be capitalized if they’re part of the official name. For instance, you’d say The New Yorker (because “The” is actually part of the publication’s title), but Time magazine (“magazine” is not part of the name).

Q: I’ve seen “website” written in a zillion different ways: website, Web site, Website, web-site – what does AP say?
A: AP prefers “Web site.” Also “Web page” and “the Web.” Honestly, this looks a little silly and old-fashioned to me; if you’ve got a flexible client or in-house style guide, I’d recommend “website” instead. But there you go. AP often changes or updates its rules, and I’m hoping that this is one entry that gets modernized.

Coming up next week: more titles (books and people), acronyms, and more!!

Have any questions you’d like us to answer? Let us know and we’ll answer you in an upcoming blog post.

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Charles Boisseau

July 14, 2010

FYI: AP recently changed its style for website to one word lower case.


Wintress Odom

July 15, 2010

Hi Charles, Yep! Thanks for pointing that out. We actually blogged about that recently at: Hello website!.



May 11, 2011

Glad to see someone recommend the AP style guide. I started out as a newspaper reporter. As I transitioned into running marketing communication departments, I'd always insist that the communications and PR people use the AP guide (I've bought dozens of copies from Amazon over the years to hand out to my staff). I was always amazed by how many of these marketing professional writers hadn't heard of it or used it. But my point to them was very straightforward: this is how most of the non-marketing communications messages your target audience reads are formated. Follow the guide and you'll communicate to them in the same style as their daily newspaper or weekly news magazine. And when you are trying to build trust with a reader, that is not a bad thing.



June 21, 2011

Hyphens drive me crazy! I frequently write about health issues and have made myself a "cheat sheet" for hyphenated terms. For example, antibiotic and antihistamine are not hyphenated but anti-inflammatory and anti-aging are. Writing Web site doesn't cut it for me. I agree with you on "website", definitely. Arlie Jarels


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