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Friday, April 12, 2013

Revised entries for Islamist, numerals, underway | Associated Press Stylebook

The Associated Press has updated several entries in "the journalist's bible," aka the AP Stylebook: Islamist, numerals, and underway. As a subscriber to the online AP Stylebook, I get emailed announcements about additions and changes to the easy-to-use editorial reference.

The simplest change is underway. AP may be the last major reference book to make it one word, revising its longtime preference for a two-word under way. Even AP's preferred dictionary, Webster's New World Dictionary, has listed it as one word since at least its fourth edition in 1999 (the version sitting on my desk).

I don't know what's changed in AP's Islamist entry. AP added it to the style manual in March 2012, and my latest print version is from 2010. But I have a hunch AP clarified its entry in response to the inflammatory, misleading rhetoric of news sources about all things Muslim.

Here's the revised entry:
Islamist An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.
Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.
AP's most extensive revision is its numerals entry. The entry is now much more logically organized, with some simpler explanations, updated examples, and less need to follow cross-references. But my comparison between the new entry and the 2010 entry did not reveal many significant changes in style preference. 

The revised entry now begins with AP's general advice, followed by a list of exceptions. The general advice has been buried at the end of the entry. The entry begins:
numerals In general, spell out one through nine: The Yankees finished second. He had nine months to go.
Use figures for 10 or above and whenever preceding a unit of measure or referring to ages of people, animals, events or things. Also in all tabular matter, and in statistical and sequential forms. ...
But it still ends with this related advice:
OTHER USES. For uses not covered by these listings, spell out whole numbers below 10, and use figures for 10 and above: They had three sons and two daughters. They had a fleet of 10 station wagons and two buses.
IN A SERIES. Apply the standard guidelines: They had 10 dogs, six cats and 97 hamsters. They had four four-room houses, 10 three-room houses and 12 10-room houses.
As for the exceptions, the entry lists types of words that use figures even for numerals below 10, with examples and some cross-references for more details. It includes advice for addresses, centuries, highway designations, military ranks, monetary units, school grades, sequential designations (such as page numbers, earthquakes, and room numbers), political districts, recipes, speeds, sports scores, temperatures, and votes. 

Here are some changes and additions I noticed:
  • ages. No significant changes, but 30-something is a new example. It notes, however, that Thirty-something should be used to start a sentence. Also, AP advises use of figures when giving the ages of laws, houses and other inanimate objects (as well as people). I must have read in another style manual that figures should be used only for human beings and animals. I like AP's simpler preference. 
  • court decisions. Hyphens are still preferred when reporting decisions: The Supreme Court ruled 5-4, a 5-4 decision. But the hyphens have been removed from quotations when the word to is used: "The court ruled 5 to 4," not The court ruled 5-to-4.
  • decimals, percentages and fractions with numbers larger than 1. No style changed noted, but I'm bothered by an apparent inconsistency. The separate entry on fractions says, "Use figures for precise amounts larger than 1, converting to decimals whenever practical." But examples in the new numerals section include 3½ laps alongside 7.2 magnitude quake, 3.7 percent interest .... Why not not use 3.5 instead of the fraction?
  • dimensions. No change, but an exception is added to the exception. While numerals should be used to note depth, height  length and width, two-by-four should be spelled out when referring to building lumber that's 2 inches thick by 4 inches wide.  
  • distances. Here's the biggest change, one that increases consistency with dimensions: He walked 4 miles. It's no longer: He walked four miles. 
  • mathematical usage. New, obvious advice, as far as I can tell: Multiply by 4, divide by 6. He added 2 and 2 but got 5.
  • odds, proportions and ratios. No style change noted (always use figures): a 1-4 chance, for example, but one chance in three.
  • times. No style change in using figures for giving the time of day, but there's a potentially confusing exception when numbers less than 10 stand alone and in modifiers. It seems unnecessary to me. Here's the entry (highlighting added):
    Use figures for time of day except for noon and midnight: 1 p.m., 10:30 a.m., 5 o'clock, 8 hours, 30 minutes, 20 seconds, a winning time of 2:17.3 (two hours, 17 minutes, 3 seconds). Spell out numbers less than 10 standing alone and in modifiers: I'll be there in five minutes. He scored with two seconds left. An eight-hour day. The two-minute warning.
    In addition, the revised entry includes new, helpful examples for spelling out numerals in other uses:
    – In indefinite and casual uses: Thanks a million. He walked a quarter of a mile. One at a time; a thousand clowns; one day we will know; an eleventh-hour decision; dollar store.
    – In fanciful usage or proper names: Chicago Seven, Fab Four, Big Three automakers, Final Four, the Four Tops."Fourscore and seven years ago ..." Twelve Apostles, Ten Commandments, high-five, Day One.
    Finally, while the old numerals entry began with advice on rarely used Roman  numerals, that advice, along with advice on ordinal numbers, is now closer to the end. The advice on ordinal numbers is clearer than it has been:
    Numbers used to indicate order (first, second, 10th, 25th, etc.) are called ordinal numbers. Spell out first through ninth: fourth grade, first base, the First Amendment, he was first in line. Use figures starting with 10th.
    _______
    As a former journalism student, reporter, editor and instructor, I'm a long-time follower of AP style. I continued to follow it when I left the news business and moved into public relations. The AP alphabetically organized manual answers the most common editorial style questions.

    I refer to other excellent, more comprehensive manuals when AP has no preference or its preference is unclear: Chicago Manual of Style, Gregg Reference Manual, and Garner's Modern American Usage. All four references sit on my desk for handy use. Besides AP, Chicago and Gregg have online versions.

    My online guide, Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual, is also a handy reference. I update it occasionally to include new entries and revised style advice.

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