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Since retiring from full-time PR practice in 1998, I’ve realized that my grasp of current style has been slowly slipping away. The writing business – both journalism and public relations – continues to change rapidly and that requires practitioners to keep a current copy of the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law handy.

I’ve found that I use the Stylebook quite frequently in the writing I do as a retired PR guy. And as AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt says in the foreword to the 2013 edition, “Today’s Stylebook still outlines basic rules on grammar, punctuation, usage and style, but it also reflects changes in common language, offers guidance on media law, explains AP’s news values and principles, and helps to navigate the ever-changing world of social media.”

Fortunately, the annual stylebook updates are inexpensive. I purchase the new edition each year and just bought the newly released 2013 60th anniversary paperback edition from Amazon for $11.89. Each edition contains new sections and a variety of updates.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, I’ve included highlights from the last three editions to tide you over until your new copy arrives:

2011 changes

  • A Social Media Guidelines section was added with information and policies on using tools like Facebook and Twitter. It also included new entries on a variety of social media terms.
  • A new Food Guidelines section consolidated more than 400 food names and terms.
  • High-profile changes included the spelling of “website,” “email,” “cellphone” and “smartphone” – one word, no hyphen, lowercase. Other e-words, such as “e-book” and “e-commerce,” retain the hyphen.
  • “Calcutta, India,” was changed to “Kolkata, India,” to follow local style.
  • “Handheld” is used for the noun; “hand-held” for the adjective.
  • Entries were also added for 75 new words and phrases.


2012 changes:

  • The 2012 stylebook featured a new Broadcast chapter, an expanded Social Media chapter and several fashion-related updates.
  • The “hopefully” entry was updated, making it acceptable to use the word to mean “it is hoped,” “we hope” and “let us hope.”
  • Racial identification was changed, saying that race is pertinent in stories about crime suspects who have been “sought by the police or missing persons cases,” as long as “police or other credible, detailed descriptions” are used. When a suspect is found or apprehended, the racial reference should be removed.
  • “Illegal immigrant” was further defined to include anyone who “resides in a country in criminal or civil violation of immigration law.”
  • More than 270 new and updated entries were also added.

2013 changes:

  • AP expanded its “phobia” entry with a ban on use of the term “homophobia.”
  • “Illegal immigrant” was changed to “illegal immigration” because it is the act that’s illegal, not the person.
  • AP reversed its opinion that the term “partners” be used to describe legally married same-sex couples. The stylebook now recommends that “husbands and wives” be used to describe such couples.
  • “Underway” is now one word in all instances.
  • The numerals entry has been updated. Figures, for example, are now preferred usage for all distances and dimensions.
  • The entry for “weapons” has been expanded in response to the many recent news stories involving weaponry. In particular, the difference between an assault rife and assault weapons is defined. Other weapons-related terms have been added or revised, including “pistol,” “revolver,” “clip,” “magazine” and “bolt-action rifle.”
  • Refinements were made to the “homicide, murder and manslaughter” entry with more specific definitions and guidelines on when to call a killing a murder.
  • New entries were also added on more than 90 new words and phrases.

How many spaces after a period?
Sometime around 2009, the AP Stylebook changed the number of spaces after a period from two to one. I had serious problems with this change and have continued to use two spaces after each sentence. It seemed like a frivolous move, designed to provide more space for newspaper and magazine copy. I also felt that it crowded the printed page, making copy more difficult to read.

In researching the reasons for the change, I learned that it was driven by the
differences in font size between typewriters and computers. Most typewriter fonts are monospaced, meaning that all letters take up the same amount of space. When using a monospaced font, it made sense to type two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence to create a visual break. But when you’re typing on a computer, most fonts are proportional, which means the characters are different widths. An “i,” for example, is narrower than an “m,” so putting extra space between sentences doesn’t do anything to improve readability.

Having learned all this, I’m going to give one space a try. I certainly wouldn’t want to irritate page designers or copy editors by forcing them to remove extra spaces from copy I’d submitted. (And yes, I did go back and remove the extra spaces from this copy.)
If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to purchase the latest edition of the Stylebook. The price is right, and it serves as a valuable, comprehensive and easy-to-use reference.

- Fred Morgan, APR, Fellow PRSA