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AP Stylebook

The AP Stylebook comes out with changes and clarifications every year for journalists.

I tend to get a little annoyed with the AP Stylebook. Those who know much about newspaper writing will understand the reference. For those who don't, the Associated Press Stylebook is often referred to as a journalist's bible.

Dating back to 1953, it's a reference source for editors, reporters and others that provides guidelines for spelling, language, punctuation, usage and journalistic style.

Back in my college years, I pretty much had the AP Stylebook memorized. We were tested on such things, after all, in our classroom writing assignments. Striving to turn in "clean copy" to editors as a reporter, I've always tried to keep up with the stylebook's suggestions for obvious reasons, but also to create less work for my superiors. At a few newspapers where I've worked, we developed our own exceptions to the stylebook's rules.

The AP comes out with updated stylebooks every year. Nowadays, I subscribe to a digital version because it has the latest usage rules along with a great database that answers just about any question a reporter might have about something. As such, I receive periodic updates on the latest changes.

This week, a few of those changes were difficult to accept because I've been following the previous rules for 30-plus years now.

Here's a sampling:

• Percent, percentage, percentage points: Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases. In casual uses, use words rather than figures and numbers: She said he has a zero percent chance of winning.

• Casualties: Avoid using the word, which is vague and can refer to either injuries or deaths. Instead, be specific about what is meant. If authorities use the term, press for specifics. If specifics aren't available, say so: Officer Kevin Frahm said the crash resulted in casualties, but he did not know whether those were injuries or deaths.

• Marijuana: In states that have legalized marijuana, it is usually sold at stores often called dispensaries. A budtender is an employee of a dispensary who interacts with and sells products to customers. The term is acceptable in limited uses, such as quotes or colloquial references; often terms like employee, worker or staff member will suffice.

• Hyphen (-): Hyphens are joiners. Use them to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words. Use of the hyphen is far from standardized. It is optional in most cases, a matter of taste, judgment and style sense. But the fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion (loose-knit group, but tax code changes). Think of hyphens as an aid to readers' comprehension. If a hyphen makes the meaning clearer, use it. If it just adds clutter and distraction to the sentence, don't use it.

• Pre-: Generally do not hyphenate. In recognition of common usage and dictionary preferences, do not hyphenate double-e combinations with pre- and re-. Examples: preeclampsia, preelection, preeminent, preempt, preestablished, preexisting, etc.

• Grade, grader: No hyphen in most cases: a fourth grade student, first grader, she is in the fifth grade. Do hyphenate if needed to avoid confusion, such when combined with another ordinal number: He was the sixth fourth-grade student to win the prize; she is the 10th third-grader to join.

• Quotations in the news: Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution. Do not use (sic) to show that quoted material or person's words include a misspelling, incorrect grammar or peculiar usage. Instead, paraphrase if possible. If there is a question about a quote, either don't use it or ask the speaker to clarify.

• The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Note the capitalization and punctuation of Latter-day. The church in 2018 began moving away from the widely recognized terms Mormon church and LDS church, and now prefers that its full name be used and that members be referred to as Latter-day Saints. Use the full name of the church on first references, with the church, church members, members of the faith preferred on second and later reference. When necessary for space or clarity or in quotations or proper names, Mormon, Mormons and Latter-day Saints are acceptable.

• North Macedonia: Name change effective in February 2019 for the country formerly known as Macedonia.

Those are just a few, there are many more with long explanations and plenty of examples. The marijuana entry, for example, goes on and on and on about everything you'd want to know. What I included above is just an excerpt. The biggest changes for me to remember will involve percentages and some of the hyphenation rules.

Anyway, that's just a peek into my world a little about what's going through my head when cranking out these stories.

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