Style Matters: What’s New in AP and Chicago Style Guides

Is it e-mail or email? Internet or internet? Hyphen or not?

In many cases, it depends on what style guide you’re looking at.

While many companies have their own style guidelines customized to their business needs, some don’t, and they instead rely on popular references like the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style. Even businesses with their own style guides often use one or both of these comprehensive volumes to supplement their own guides.

Many experienced editorial professionals and others who frequently write or review content take pride in knowing AP and Chicago style guides inside and out. But if you’ve been busy lately and happened to miss the most recent editions of these guides, you may have a bit of catching up to do.

To keep you on your toes, this blog focuses on a few notable updates to these two resources that showed up over the past couple of years. Note that the AP Stylebook is updated every year, with the most recent being the 54th Edition (2019). The Chicago Manual just had a big update in 2017 (17th Edition).

AP Stylebook Updates

  • %:

    Instead of writing out the word percent in most uses, AP now recommends using the % symbol when it’s paired with a number. For example, use 5%,rather than 5 percent. The folks at AP still want you to use the full word when not paired with a number, as in, “What percent of employees were promoted this year?”

  • cyberattack:

    AP defines a cyberattack (one word) as “a computer operation that causes significant damage or wide-ranging disruption, as in damage to large machinery, injury or death.” Nuisance activities with a lower impact, as when a hacker erases someone’s smartphone data or defaces a website, should be referred to by different descriptive names, like online vandalism.

  • hyphen:

    No need to hyphenate dual heritage terms, like African American, or use hyphens in words with double-e combinations, such as reelection. AP has plenty more to say on hyphens in recent editions (as does Chicago), so it’s worth taking a gander at these entries.

  • split infinitive:

    No longer do writers, editors, speakers and others need to live in terror of the dreaded split infinitive. AP now says it’s OK to put a word or phrase between to and the infinitive form of a verb. (Chicago style agrees.) If it makes the sentence easier to read, go for it. Here’s an oft used example (especially for Star Trek fans): To boldly go … However, if splitting the infinitive makes the sentence awkward, try to avoid it.

  • STEM:

    It’s now perfectly fine to use the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math on first reference, but AP advises spelling it out shortly thereafter in case anyone is unfamiliar with it.

  • they (gender neutral use):

    It’s no longer a great idea to use “he” as a singular, gender-neutral program. They is now OK if you don’t know the gender, and the alternative to using they is a clumsy construction. For example, if you find yourself having to write he or she (or she or he) over and over, you can use they, but try to reword the sentence first so you don’t have to. Also, if a person prefers not to be referred to using he, she, him or her, try first using the person’s name or rewording the sentence. If that doesn’t work, go ahead and use they, but explain that your subject prefers a gender-neutral pronoun.

In addition to these few updates, recent AP guides also have sections on cryptocurrency, fake news and deepfakes, health and science terms, LGBT/LGBTQ references, race-related writing and even Santa Claus.

Chicago Manual of Style Updates

  • Email:

    Chicago style fans can finally say farewell to the hyphen in email (formerly e-mail). Note that AP got rid of that thing back in 2011.

  • Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z:

    These named generations all have initial caps. Sorry baby boomers and millennials. No caps for you.

  • Ibid.:

    Are you still using the Latin abbreviation ibid (meaning “in the same place) to avoid repeatedly referencing the same long title in footnotes or endnotes? If so, Chicago says you can stop now. The manual recommends just using a shortened reference, like Morrison, 365. The change especially makes sense in some forms of digital media that link to one note at a time (so, if using ibid, you wouldn’t know what reference went before).

  • internet:

    You can also lose the initial cap in internet, unless it’s trademarked or part of a proper name. (AP also uses the lowercased version, having made the change back in 2016.)

  • they:

    Like the AP, Chicago has also started relaxing some rules on the use of they as a gender-neutral pronoun. However, while using it in speech and informal writing is now acceptable, using it in formal writing is verboten. Well, not really forbidden, but Chicago is so keen on your avoiding it that the manual has an entire section of suggested rewordings. They really don’t want you to do it. However, like AP, Chicago advises respecting the preference of people who have chosen they as their personal pronoun.

These are just a few of the hundreds of changes made to the AP and Chicago style guides in recent years, so it might be time to pick up and peruse a new version of your chosen resource. Or, if you’re not the kind of person who tends to geek out on these matters, it’s not hard to find an editor or writer who will.



2019 AP Stylebook
The Chicago Manual of Style

By Julie Vallone, ETMG Writer/Editor

When writer/editor Julie Vallone isn’t blogging about marketing hacks, lifestyle trends and quirky little grammar tips, she’s turning complex technical concepts into clear, engaging content guaranteed to remove the knitted brow from your favorite technophobe. In her “free” time, she’s a dedicated stage mom, creating big, elaborate props and calming her resident thespian, or she’s busy at home herding way too many cats.