How AP Stylebook’s Editors Decide How to Change Their Guidance

From Colleen Newvine – product manager, AP Stylebook:

If you have ever wondered how the AP Stylebook’s editors decide how to add or change their guidance, a new section now available on AP Stylebook Online offers insight.

Below is an excerpt from the new section, which will also appear in the AP Stylebook, 56th Edition, coming on June 1.

“The English language is fluid and changes incessantly. What last year may have been very formal, next year may be loosely informal. Word combinations, slogans and phrases are being added and becoming part of the language. …

“Because of the constantly changing usage, no compilation can be called permanent. Nor can any one volume be infallible or contain all the wisdom and information of the ages.”

That’s what AP editors observed in introducing the first version of the AP Stylebook in 1953.

We say the same today.

Or, as a modern-day Stylebook subscriber put it: In a lot of ways, the Stylebook is a history book of sorts, a real-time reflection on the times in which we live.

Through all the changes in the world through the years, our work remains deeply rooted in respect for language and commitment to the goals of AP journalism in general: to be accurate, clear, fair and concise.

We’re a combination of prescriptivist (rules rules rules) and descriptivist — capturing and conveying how the language is used, and adding some guidance around that.

There’s not always a definitive right or wrong. Some of our guidance offers key points to consider in choosing language, and notes that there can be a lot of gray areas. Often, writers and editors may need to make judgment calls based on in-depth discussion and consideration.

Since AP style is grounded in guiding AP journalists, our approach considers a very broad audience, from all sorts of backgrounds, in cities large and small around the globe. We aim to make our guidance easy to apply for those outside the AP as well. But organizations, writers and editors who aren’t with the AP can modify as needed for their own audiences.

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