AP Style FAQs: Part 2

08 Mar 2010


Last week, we kicked off a mini-series of Associated Press Stylebook-themed blog posts. This week, we’re sharing a few more gems of wisdom from The AP Stylebook Online.

Q: What’s the rule for capitalizing a person’s title?
A: It’s complicated, but here are the basics: AP defines a formal title as “one that denotes a scope of authority, professional activity or academic activity.” When using a formal title, you should capitalize the title if it appears directly before a person’s name. So, you’d write “President Barack Obama” or “Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.”


When you set the person’s name off with commas, you don’t capitalize a formal title – even if the title is before the person’s name. So, you might say, “The hotel’s general manager, John Smith, donated to the cause.” Or “The vice president, Joe Biden, appeared at the event.”

When using a title alone (without a person’s name), you don’t capitalize. So, you’d write “the president gave a speech” or “the congresswoman visited her hometown.”

And, don’t confuse a job title or line of work with a formal title. So, you wouldn’t capitalize: teacher, politician, editor, technician, astronaut – no matter where they appear in the sentence.

Whew! Confused yet? AP notes that, when in doubt about how to capitalize, the best solution is to rewrite the sentence so that the person’s name is set off in commas.

Q: Should “city hall” be capitalized?
A: Well, sometimes: Capitalize “City Hall” if you’re writing about a specific city hall (like Boston City Hall, Houston City Hall, etc.). This is also the rule in cases where a specific city hall is implied; for example, if you’re writing for a local Houston newsletter, you’d write “City Hall” (even without “Houston” – it’s safe to assume that your readers will understand which one you mean).

But if you’re writing about ANY city hall – for instance, “A city hall is a type of . . .” or “You can’t fight city hall” – leave it lower-cased.

Q: When using the acronym “CEO,” do I have to write out “Chief Executive Officer (CEO)” on first reference?
A: I was sort of surprised by this: No. CEO is so widely used that it’s okay to use on its own. But AP does recommend writing out all other C-level titles, like “Chief Financial Officer (CFO)” and “Chief Operating Officer (COO)”

Q: So, in your last blog, you said magazine and newspaper titles shouldn’t be italicized, just capitalized. What about book titles?
A: Book titles should be capitalized and put in quotation marks. Ditto for almost all composition titles, including video games, films, TV shows – and the titles of lectures, speeches, and works of art. So, you’d write: “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay” (book); “Fallout 3” (video game); “Inglorious Basterds” (movie); “Annabel Lee” (poem); “Deadwood” (TV show).

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