Percentages, racism and other alterations: AP unveils major changes to it style book

Like most of us who write books, the used book market is apparently killing the Associated Press. For its upcoming 2019 edition (which seems weird, given that we’re about one-fourth of the way through 2019 already…), the folks at AP have made a number of changes that will render your old style guide (and a good portion of your institutional memory) null and void.

At the ACES: The Society for Editing conference on Friday, the AP unveiled a number of the key changes to its upcoming edition. In some cases, the ideas appeared to be extremely well researched and had some important rationale behind them, such as the way in which the entire race and racism sections were reconstructed. Other changes felt like they were inspired by this classic George Carlin routine:


One that has most journo-geeks I know and love freaking out is the organization’s decision to move away from the use of “percent” spelled out to “%” when dealing with percentages.

According to one of my former students who watched this roll out, things were a bit tense:

I was in the room at the ACES conference when they announced this. Everyone gasped.

So, 2018 version:

  • WRONG: I calculate my chance of getting a passing grade on this test to be about 3%.
  • RIGHT: I got a 58 percent on my math final, which meant I failed.

And 2019 version:

  • WRONG: According to the survey, 82 percent of the respondents eat at least one meal in the car each day.
  • RIGHT: The most common grade on the exam was a 75%.

AP also reworked its approach to hyphens, meaning I’ll likely spend about 92 hours reworking half of my AP style worksheets. The traditional method of hyphenation meant that you looked at the concept of compound modifiers to guide you.

  • Zoe is a 13-year-old girl.
  • I rented a two-bedroom apartment

In both cases, you need all of the words connected with hyphens to work together to modify the noun. You wouldn’t say, “I rented a two apartment” or “I rented a bedroom apartment.” Thus, the hyphen works there (and according to AP, it remains in cases like that).

However, in commonly known phrases, AP is going with no hyphens:

  • I ate a chocolate chip cookie.
  • Jimmy scored a first quarter touchdown.

How those differ from “two-bedroom apartment,” I remain uncertain, but we’re going with it.

The hyphens with the biggest impact, and the area with the most changes, reside in the sections on race. AP changed its long-held stance (or is it a long held stance?) on hyphenating racial qualifiers:

  • 2018: He has an African-American father and an Asian-American mother.
  • 2019: He has an African American father and an Asian American mother.

AP said it worked with multiple groups to determine how best to work through its entire section on race and that the issue of hyphenation came down to the marginalization of non-white groups and the way in which these served as microaggressions against them.

AP also now allows for the use of the term “racist” to basically call racist behavior racist instead of couching such actions in weaker language.

  • 2018: Carl appeared to engage in racially motivated language when he said, “black people are intellectually inferior.”
  • 2019: Carl made several racist statements, including “black people are intellectually inferior.”

For the full list of changes, you can download a PDF here.

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