10 Style Changes the AP Should Announce at ACES 2012
February 11, 2012
At the last two annual meetings of the American Copy Editors Society, the Associated Press announced major changes to highly unpopular “AP Stylebook” entries. Last year, they reversed their position on email, cellphone and smartphone; the year before, they gave in to the prevalent usage of website over Web site.
With this year's meeting taking place in my hometown (April 12-14, 2012), I started wondering what the AP might do this year. And hey, if they need any suggestions, I have a few ideas:
Add an entry that addresses the use of italics. I don’t care that the AP doesn’t use italics because “they don’t transmit through news wires.” Seriously, do we need to keep a rule around because we’re still, what, transmitting news via telegraph? What is this, Daylight Savings Time? Just stick an entry in the Stylebook about when to italicize, addressing the use of italics for emphasis and for titles. If you want to insist that newspapers do not use italics, go ahead. But if you get to use italics in your own stylebook to distinguish examples, you have no business pretending that they don’t exist.
Speaking of pretending that something doesn’t exist, add an entry that addresses the use of bullet points. It’s not particularly intuitive to place guidance about bullet points in the “dashes” entry. Plus, the idea of placing a period at the end of extremely short bullet points does not sit well with many people. When we write shopping lists, we don’t punctuate them. Short bulleted lists have the same intent as shopping lists and should be treated identically.
Begin phasing out abbreviations in text that require periods (such as months, state names and No. for number), either removing the periods or spelling everything out. I recently learned in a global authoring workshop that any periods that occur within a sentence are read by automated translators as a sentence break. These “segments” are separated, sometimes out of order, and thus it’s difficult for human translators to reassemble them. Abbreviating for space isn’t often necessary anymore (except on Twitter, dang it). Why not make adjustments that make document translation easier?
Standardize the rules of capitalization for headlines and composition titles. Making such a distinction between the two is confusing enough, but you’re also asking Stylebook users to remember that a composition title is a “book title, computer game title, movie title, opera title, play title, poem title, album and song title, radio and television program title, and the titles of lectures, speeches and works of art.” But not blogs. No, blog titles go in quotes. By the way, that list you just read? Put all of those things in quotes too, “except the Bible and books that are primarily catalogs of reference material. In addition to catalogs, this category includes almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, gazetteers, handbooks and similar publications.” I subscribe to several gazetteers, don’t you? But I digress. Don’t put popular websites and smartphone apps in quotes. Wait, except for “FarmVille.” That does go in quotes. What were we talking about? Oh, yeah, capitalization. Look, AP, just agree to upstyle or downstyle all titles, defining a title as simply that thing that comes first in a document and is sometimes centered. Keep the “composition titles” entry specific to whether or not you use quotes, and be more consistent with that, too. Most people are going capitalize composition titles.
Standardize the abbreviation of measurements. It’s confusing to spell out pounds, feet and inches but not kilobyte, megabit or terabyte.
Speaking of measurements, entries for treating measurements that modify nouns are desperately needed. The “numerals” and “dimensions” entries in the AP Stylebook advocate using spaces, while the “kilobyte” entry says no space. Consistency, people! And does the hyphenated modifier rule apply to measurements or not? I think that the AP would probably lean toward no hyphens, and here’s why: They do not use a hyphen with the word “percent” because they believe the meaning is clear without it. If you apply that reasoning to all mathematical values, then there is no need to put hyphens in measurements, because there’s no possibility that a reader would think that these numbers are just hanging out in sentences all random-like.
Face “the reality of wide usage” (I quote Mr. Minthorn) and consider changing 3-D to 3D, ultra as a compound word to ultra as a hyphenated prefix, using “data” with a plural verb to using “data” with a singular verb, pushup and situp (back) to push-up and sit-up … I could go on …
Recommend a preferred verb for directing readers to a website. Should it be “visit,” “see,” “click,” “go to” or something else? Make an executive decision, somebody, please.
Reverse the rule on not using acronyms immediately after the spelled-out version of said acronym. Authors love acronyms, and people skim more than read. So why not be clear here? Expecting readers to mentally assemble an acronym – sometimes several paragraphs or pages after The Words Whose First Letters Make Up That Acronym appear – is a bit much.
Acknowledge the reality of wide usage of your Stylebook by businesses and individuals other than those in the publishing industry. Be flattered by this reality, and in return, consider the needs of those who work in corporate communications departments, or in hospitals, or at a video game developer. These employees may not have chosen the “AP Stylebook” as the default style; it may be a legacy thing. Now they’re stuck trying to apply your style to their specific language issues, and they need help. Help them. Be inclusive! Stop using “haven’t seen the term” or “simply recast the sentence” or “AP doesn’t” as excuses.