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AP Style Rules: Correct Uses for Race-Related Terms, Gender-Neutral Words, and Election Lingo

It's hard to believe it's only been a few months since our last AP Style roundup. So much has happened since then.

Let's recap some of the recent AP Style rule reminders. And with the presidential election quickly approaching, we'll review some of the writing rules on that topic as well.

Election Terminology Recap

We reviewed AP Style rules regarding election lingo in a previous post. If you're covering the election, make sure you're familiar with these guidelines:

  • Vote totals should always be written with figures, not words, even if they’re under 10.
  • Always include a candidate’s political party; it’s essential information.
  • Capitalize Election Day. Lowercase election night. Both primary and primary day are lowercase.
  • Since it’s not an official title, first lady is always lowercase.
  • Unless included before names, these titles should always be lowercase: president, vice president, press secretary, majority leader, and minority leader.
  • Avoid the informal term veep unless it's part of a direct quote. VP is acceptable in headlines.
  • Include a hyphen in front-runner.
  • GOP (Grand Old Party) may be used on second reference to the Republican Party.
  • A majority is more than half the votes cast; a plurality is the largest number of votes, but less than a majority.

Digital Security for Journalists

The @APStylebook Twitter held a chat on Aug. 19 to cover its new chapter on digital security for journalists. Here are a few takeaways:

Doxxing is “the malicious publication of information such as home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.”

Password security is crucial for journalists, whether for email or social media accounts, as they offer access to sources. Passwords should include a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols – and should differ for each account. AP also recommends using a password manager tool to help you keep track.

Journalists should always use secure Wi-Fi connections, whether via the office network or VPN software. Although phones are difficult to intercept, mobile carriers do have access to your location. Try using a “Faraday pouch” for your phone when meeting with sensitive sources.

U.S. Postal Service

Postal Service should be capitalized later on in a story referencing the U.S. Postal Service. As a standalone, “the service” should be lowercase.

As a generic reference to the agency or an individual post office, “post office” should be lowercase. The shorthand USPS should be avoided.

Race-Related Terms


To align with other racial and ethnic identifiers like Latino and Asian American, AP Style was updated in June to capitalize Black in a racial, ethnic, or cultural sense. After much debate, AP came to the decision that white should continue to be lowercase.

The term "people of color" is acceptable in broad references to people of races other than white in the U.S. However, the term can be viewed as lumping people together into one group, so be specific when possible and do not use the term "person of color" for an individual. Along similar lines, the term "minority" can be used as a broad reference, but be specific when possible and do not use it as a singular noun.

Indigenous is capitalized when referring to the original inhabitants of a place.

Latino and Latina are acceptable terms when describing men and women with ancestors from a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. Latinx is a gender-neutral term and should only be used in quotes or when someone specifically requests it – and make sure to explain it.

Keep in mind, you should often avoid identifying someone by their race, as it draws unnecessary attention to their race or ethnicity, which can be viewed as bigotry. Only note a person’s race or ethnicity if it’s relevant to the specific story and that relevance is made clear.


The term racist should not be used to describe a person, but rather a specific policy, action, or statement. If you determine that racist isn’t the right term, words like xenophobic, bigoted, biased, and nativist could be more appropriate.

Anti-racism should have a hyphen.

Read more guidelines for race-related coverage in this topical guide.

Older Adults

Rather than using terms like senior citizen, seniors, and the elderly, phrases like older adult and older person are generally preferred.

They are best used in general phrases rather than referring to specific individuals. If you can be specific, do it: "a community program for women over 65," for example.


Although it can be argued that the term is redundant, preheat is correct. The guidance was updated as many recipes use the term and some ovens have a preheat setting.

PB&J is acceptable in all references.

While BLT is acceptable on the first reference, if you add avocado, don’t use BLAT – write it out.

Child care

Babysit, babysitting, babysat, and babysitter should be written as one word, no hyphen needed.

However, day care is two words.

Gender-Neutral Lingo

In our last AP Style review, we discussed some gender-neutral language. Here are a few more reminders:

  • Replace the term mankind with options like humanity, humankind, humans, human beings, and people.
  • Avoid man-made and instead use terms like human-made, human-caused, artificial, or synthetic.
  • Use host instead of hostess.
  • Don't use terms like heroine and fireman. Instead, replace them with hero and firefighter, for example.


AP Style doesn’t use the spelling "okay." Correct uses are OK, OK’d, OK’ing, and OKs.

See the original post on Beyond Bylines.

Rocky Parker

Rocky Parker is the Digital Content Lead at Cision and has been with the company since 2010. In addition to writing content for Beyond Bylines and the Cision blog, she works with journalists, bloggers, and content creators to create their targeted newsfeeds from PR Newswire for Journalists. Rocky also counsels on SEO and content writing best practices.