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14 AP Style rules to know: Embrace the percentage sign, avoid italics

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Updated regularly since its initial release in 1953, the 2019 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook features over 200 new or revised entries — and for the first time includes a chapter on health and science coverage.

Below are 14 style rules that are worth mentioning. For even more rule clarifications, check out past editions of our AP Stylebook recaps.

Commonly confused words

On March 13 and April 16, @APStylebook held very popular chats covering commonly mixed-up words. You know the ones — they make writers’ eyes twitch when they see the wrong one being used.

There were so many good reminders, it was difficult to choose a few to highlight here. These are some of our favorites:

  • Disinterested means impartial. Uninterested means a person lacks interest.
  • Dessert is a sweet treat. Desert is an arid land with sparse vegetation. Need help remembering this one? Just think of “strawberry shortcake” to remember the double “s” in dessert.
  • Continual describes a steady repetition. Continuous means uninterrupted, unbroken.
  • You can give someone a compliment or complimentary drinks. Use complement when describing completeness or the process of supplementing something.
  • Cannons are weapons, but canon is a law or rule.
  • Ensure means guarantee. Insure is used to reference insurance. Assure means to give confidence.
  • Effect, when used as a noun, means result. As a verb, it means to cause. Affect, when used as a verb, means to influence.
  • Farther refers to physical distance and further refers to an extension of time or degree.
  • Every day (two words) is an adverb, while everyday (one word) is an adjective. Everyone is used to mean all persons. It’s two words (every one) if describing each individual item.
 The darknet

An addition to the online edition of the 2016 Stylebook, darknet is written as one word, no hyphen.

 Electronic cigarettes

On second reference, e-cigarette is acceptable for the battery-operated device. E-cig should not be used. They also can be referred to as vaping devices.

Juul and Juuling should not be used as verbs.



In my years as a proofreader, this was one of the most common mistakes I came across. AP Style had a few helpful reminders on how years should be written.

  • When referencing a month, day and year, the year should be set off with commas. For example, the high school reunion will take place on May 14, 2024, in San Diego.
  • When referencing a span of decades or centuries, do not include an apostrophe before the “s.” The 1920s is correct; 1920’s is not.

On National Doughnut Day, AP Style posted a reminder that the preferred spelling is doughnut, although donut is acceptable as an informal spelling according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Frosting and icing are both acceptable to describe topping on doughnuts and other sweets.



When writing for a general audience, use singular verbs and pronouns with the word data: The data is sound.

Plural verbs and pronouns are preferred in scientific and academic writing.

Database and databank are one word; data processing and data center are two words.


Since many readers don’t know what it means, AP Stylebook advises against using (sic) to indicate incorrect spelling or grammar in a direct quote.

Paraphrasing is generally the best option.

If the quote is necessary, don’t include (sic) or alter the speaker’s words, even if they don’t follow AP Style.



Islam is the world’s second-largest religion. Let’s review some of the key terms associated with it.

  • Followers of Islam are Muslims.
  • Their holy book, the Quran “was revealed by Allah (God) to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century in Mecca and Medina,” according to Islamic belief.
  • The Islamic place of worship is a mosque.
  • Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are home to the three holiest sites in Islam.

Italics generally are not used in AP Style. Titles of books, movies, songs, works of art, etc. should be placed in quote marks.

Those with a subscription to AP Stylebook Online can view the composition titles entry for more detail.



A big change announced at ACES 2019, percentage symbols are now acceptable to use with numerals in most cases.

No space is needed between the figure and percentage symbol.

If you’re referencing a range, “to,” “and” and a dash are all acceptable options.

You can review a recap of the additional changes on the AP Stylebook blog.

Login vs. log in

Login (one word) is a noun and does not need a hyphen. Logon and logoff also do not require a hyphen.

Log in (two words) is a verb.

For example, a username and password make up a person’s login, which are used to log in to their computer.

Logging in

 Hyphens for double-e combinations

Due to common usage and dictionary preferences, hyphens are no longer required for double-e combinations with pre- and re- prefixes.

This includes words such as preeminent, preexisting, reemerge and reenact.

Punctuation around quotation marks

Another regular fix I made as a proofreader was punctuation in and around quotation marks.

Per AP Style, commas and periods always should be placed inside the quotation marks.

Other punctuation — such as dashes, question marks and exclamation points — will go inside the quotation marks if they apply to the quoted text. If they apply to the full sentence, they should be placed outside the quotation marks.



Racism, racist

AP Stylebook made recent changes to how these terms should be used.

  • If racism or racist is applicable, racially charged should not be used as a euphemism.
  • Both terms “can be used in broad references or in quotations to describe the hatred of a race, or assertion of the superiority of one race over others.”

See the original post on Beyond Bylines.


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