Leen Glenn

Leen Glenn

Content Strategist

You should use the AP Stylebook for more than checking commas

July 13, 2021

As a copywriter and editor, the AP Stylebook is my sacred text. Even the most confident wordsmith should routinely reference it. Entries are continually added, edited and omitted.

That said, every communications professional should have ready access to the AP Stylebook. And that’s not just the editor side of me wanting an easier job.

The Stylebook details more than grammar rules like how to use an em dash or write out a date. It hosts the most current information about words and phrases and how they should be used in our profession. Taking the time to double-check that your language is sensitive and professional makes us better communicators, co-workers and people. 

“Black” is now capitalized. “Homeless” is an adjective, not a noun. There are 1,763 words dedicated to explaining terminology related to gender and sexuality. Even at this moment, I’ve discovered more information has been added under the “race-related coverage” section detailing the Black Lives Matter and Stop AAPI Hate movements. Follow the AP Stylebook on Twitter for alerts on the latest updates.

I’ll admit, there have been times I’ve thought the Stylebook was flat-out wrong, and that’s OK. It’s an evolving text, but we don’t have to wait for it to change. 

For instance, the Stylebook says, “They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy. However, rewording usually is possible and always is preferable. Clarity is a top priority; gender-neutral use of a singular they is unfamiliar to many readers. We do not use other gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or ze.”

As a nonbinary person who uses they/them pronouns, I disagree with prioritizing clarity over normalizing nontraditional pronouns. At Emspace + Lovgren, we have chosen to not follow this recommendation. Just as each of our clients has unique brand guidelines that can bend AP style rules, so can our agency. 

I encourage you to research and discuss questionable style recommendations with your peers to determine a solution together. You can borrow from the AP Stylebook editors’ process, like consulting what’s being said online by people who are experts in a relevant field or those who are being described by a word or phrase. 

It’s time we empower all communications professionals to wield the AP Stylebook. I will, of course, always be a diligent editor. But the more everyone feels comfortable checking and correcting their assumptions, our work, words and relationships will only get better.


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