What’s new in the ever-evolving world of AP style?
Well, the first thing to know is that the guidebook is moving to a biennial publication going forward once the 55th edition is released May 27, 2020. AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke announced some of the other AP Stylebook changes during a virtual panel at the ACES: The Society for Editing national conference. While there were more than 200 new or updated entries, our top four include:
The AP Stylebook now advises writers and editors to opt for terms that can apply to any gender, and that the use of such language aims to treat people equally, inclusive of people whose gender identity is not strictly male or female. As in all the entries and updates, the AP cautions writers to balance these aims with common sense, respect for language and understanding that gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language is ever-evolving and in some cases can be challenging to achieve.
When writing, consider any word or term that has the effect of emphasizing one gender over another – is there a different word that could be substituted? If so, it advises the writer to select that more inclusive word. The key point Froke emphasized is to give it thought. In some cases, there won’t be a good gender-neutral word, but stop and think about it before you continue writing or editing.
Referencing Older Adults/People
The Scooter Media team has often advised clients of this, and the AP Stylebook team agrees – the terms “elderly” and “senior citizen” are associated with negative stereotypes and connotations. There’s even research to back it up. Froke advised the preferred language includes terms like “older adults,” “older person,” and “older people.” These are best used in general phrases that do not refer to specific individuals.
Froke cautioned that definitions and understandings about the age range associated with terms like “older adult,” as well as terms that are discouraged like “senior citizen” and “elderly,” vary, and when those terms are used by sources, it’s best to ask for specifics.
She also added that the term “elderly” can still be used in headlines when relevant and necessary because of space constraints, but to aim for specificity whenever possible.
Both topics above really come down to being inclusive and positive in the words we choose, and the update to AP Stylebook’s entry on disabilities is no different.
Froke points out that when referencing a disability, some people don’t mind using identity-first language (“a disabled person”), while others prefer the person-first language (“person with a disability”). Whenever possible, the best thing to do is simply to ask the person their preference and use it accordingly. If that’s not possible, or when describing a group of people, the AP Stylebook editors now advise writers and editors to use person-first language.
If you paid attention to updates released by AP Stylebook editors in 2019, you might know about the controversy around the guidance on the use of the word “percent” over the symbol, “%.” For as long as anyone could remember, AP style was to type out the word “percent” and never use the symbol. Until last year, when they turned that on its head. This year, the editors turned their attention to the plus symbol and its acceptable uses.
The Scooter Media team thought it would be the percent symbol controversy all over again, but the editors have decided to take it slow, for now only issuing guidance that the symbol is now acceptable when it is pronounced as part of a company, brand or event name, like “Disney+,” or “ESPN+.” All other references should continue to use the word “plus,” including “expecting 200-plus people at the event,” or “She got a B-plus on her test.”
Now you’ll just have to get used to an official update printing every two years and keep an eye on AP Stylebook’s social media channels for updates in the interim.
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