Back to the Classroom: AP Style Rules for Education, LGBTQ, Science, & More

We know journalists are busy, and it can be difficult to keep up with recent AP Stylebook changes. So we’ve done the work for you, rounding up a few of the recent significant — and just plain interesting — updates to the AP Stylebook.

AP Style Rules - Guideline Reminders and Changes for Writers

It’s time for another quarterly review of recent AP Stylebook rule changes and reminders. In this edition, we’ll cover a range of topics, from LGBTQ terms to controversial hyphen rules to clarification on deepfakes.

Make sure to check out past editions of our AP Stylebook rules.


AP Stylebook posted a topical guide for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Here are a few of the reminders:

  • Gender is not synonymous with sex. Gender refers to a person’s social identity, while sex refers to biological characteristics.
  • Cisgender can be used to describe individuals who are not transgender. The term is not synonymous with heterosexual, which refers to sexual orientation.
  • If a person’s gender identity is not strictly male or female, nonbinary is the appropriate term. This is not the same as transgender.
  • LGBT and LGBTQ are both acceptable as umbrella terms.

Rainbow balloon floating in front of trees


In states with legalized marijuana, budtenders interact with customers at dispensaries.

However, terms like “employee” or “staff member” are generally sufficient. Budtender can be used in quotes or informal mentions.

Marijuana in three clear glass jars

Health & Science

In a popular Twitter chat on June 25, AP Stylebook offered highlights from its new health and science chapter. Here are a few of the tips for reporting on scientific studies:

  • Natural language is key in stories about health, science, or the environment. Avoid jargon as much as possible. The story should be written for the readers, not scientists or doctors. Consult experts for help when needed.
  • Be careful with reports done by advocacy or industry groups. Their research is generally designed to prove a point and may not be entirely objective.
  • AP Style says to use two words in “health care.”
  • Maintaining readers’ trust is of the utmost importance, so be skeptical of “breakthroughs” or claims of “first” or “only.”
  • Other things to consider: study subjects (human or animal); study size; and value of the findings (does it add knowledge?).
  • Read the study, not just the press release.

Row of microscopes set up on a laboratory desk

Summer Lingo

Summer officially ends next Monday, Sept. 23, but that doesn’t mean summer-related terminology won’t come up in your writing until next year. Here are a few helpful terminology reminders:

  • Fourth of July, July Fourth, and Independence Day are all acceptable ways to reference the holiday.
  • Barbecue is the correct spelling – don’t use barbeque, BBQ, or Bar-B-Q.
  • Heatstroke (one word) is the body’s failure to regulate heat. Symptoms can include high fever, dry skin, collapse, and even convulsions or coma.

Pair of sunglasses laying atop the sand at the beach


The AP Stylebook Twitter handle led a 30-minute chat on July 31 dedicated entirely to hyphens. Keep in mind that the use of hyphens may differ depending on style or taste.

These were a few AP Style reminders that stuck out:

  • Hyphens are different from dashes. They can be used to indicate a range or to form a single idea from two or more words.
  • In general, hyphens should only be used to help reader comprehension. If they end up causing confusion or cluttering a sentence, don’t use them (example: recovered vs. re-covered). 
  • Compound modifiers do not need a hyphen if they are usually recognized as one phrase, like “first quarter touchdown.” Add a hyphen if it makes the meaning more clear and to prevent confusion, such as “free-thinking society.” This change resulted in a lot of chatter, as Columbia Journalism Review exclaimed: “THE SKY HAS FALLEN! The end is nigh! How can we possibly go on?” (Update: The chatter was so loud, AP rolled back this new guidance on Sept. 25. Read more here.)
  • A reminder from a previous post: Hyphens aren’t required in designations of dual heritage like African American or Asian American.
  • Many times, adding a hyphen will depend on whether the combination comes before or after a verb. For example: “She now has a full-time job” vs. “She is now working full time.”

Woman typing on a laptop next to an open window.

Education Terminology

To prepare for back-to-school season, AP Stylebook posted a topical guide with refreshers on common education terms, and also held a Twitter chat on Aug. 20.

  • Write terms like classroom, schoolwork, blackboard, chalkboard, and whiteboard as one word.
  • Names of books, poems, plays, films, and songs should be capitalized and placed inside quote marks.
  • Always lowercase dean’s list.
  • Dropout is a noun; drop out is a verb.
  • GPA is acceptable in all references for grade-point average.
  • Don’t include a hyphen in the term high school; preschool is one word, no hyphen; and K-12 and pre-K are OK to use on first reference.
  • Since the meaning is clear without the hyphen, it’s not needed in terms like third grader and high school teacher.

Empty classroom with a map, chalkboard and American flag on the wall

Kyiv, Ukraine

The AP Stylebook recently updated its guidance for the Ukrainian capital to match the government’s preferred spelling and its increased usage.

Stories should reference the former spelling of Kiev.

Also, the food dish is still chicken Kiev.

Cityscape view of Kyiv, Ukraine


AP Style defines deepfakes as “manipulated video or other digital representation produced by sophisticated machine-learning techniques that yield seemingly realistic, but fabricated, images and sounds.” Write deepfakes as one word.

In related news, Poynter recently broke down four new terms for describing misinformation and online deception.

Black surface covered in black question marks with one red question mark

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Rocky Parker works in Audience Relations at PR Newswire. Check out her previous posts for Beyond Bylines and connect on LinkedIn. When she’s not working, Rocky typically can be found cooking, binge watching a new show, or playing with her puppy, Hudson.

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