AP Style: COVID-19, Election Terminology, & More Rule Reminders

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.

Timely AP Style Rules to Remember

It’s time for our next quarterly AP Style roundup.

With COVID-19 absolutely dominating the news cycle and probably factoring into your writing in one way or another, it’s important to know the style guide rules around it.

We also have reminders on 2020 election terminology, health and fitness, and the #MeToo movement.

Let’s get started.

COVID-19 / Coronavirus

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause a variety of illnesses, including the common cold and SARS.

The outbreak that began in 2019 in Wuhan, China, is caused by a virus called 2019-nCoV. “nCoV” stands for novel coronavirus.

In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) proposed a new name for the disease: COVID-19 (short for coronavirus disease 2019). The new name was proposed in an effort to avoid stigma. COVID-19 is acceptable on first reference, but it should be explained later in the story.

On March 11, WHO determined that the virus is now a global pandemic, meaning it has spread worldwide.

Symptoms can include fever, dry coughing, and breathing trouble.

First reference should be the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CDC is acceptable for the second reference.

AP Style Rules - Coronavirus

Election Terms

  • PAC is acceptable on first reference for a political action committee. Explain the term in your writing: A PAC raises money and makes contributions to campaigns of political candidates or parties.
  • Vote totals should always be written with figures, not words. This applies 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.
  • Super Tuesday is March 3, 2020. It’s so named due to the largest number of states holding a presidential primary: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia (Democratic only).
  • 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.

Related: Check out Pew Research Center’s field guide to reporting on polls and our six-month calendar of upcoming election events to help plan your coverage.

AP Style Rules - polling station sign outside a building

Addiction and Substance Use Terminology

Terms like alcoholic, addict, abuser, junkie, and drunk generally should be avoided. Use phrases like “she is addicted” or “they used drugs.”

Those terms are acceptable if included in quotations or names of organizations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

AP Style Reminders - Addiction terms - image of various pills grouped together


Whether you’re referring to the age of a person, animal, or object, always use figures: the building is 100 years old.

Include hyphens if age is used as an adjective before a noun or as a substitute for a noun. For example, the 29-year-old mother; a group of 10-year-olds.

This is an exception to the rule to spell out numbers less than 10. Always use the figure when referencing age.

Age should be included for someone commenting only if their age is relevant to the information they are providing.

AP Style Reminders - Ages - image of a young child's hand on top of an older person's hand

Health & Fitness Lingo

A recent Twitter chat included these helpful tips.

  • AP Style writes health care as two words, no hyphen.
  • Medical advice from celebrities or professional athletes should not be reported. They are not experts and are often paid spokespeople.
  • Lowercase coronavirus.
  • Generic terms like hot yoga and boot camp should be lowercase. Trademarks and brands such as CrossFit, Peloton, and Bikram yoga should be capitalized.
  • Warmup and cooldown are nouns; warm up and cool down are verbs.
  • While general diet references like keto and paleo should be lowercase, proper names like Whole30 should be capitalized.
  • Workout terminology: jumping jacks, jump-rope, burpees, pushups, situps.

As many people are currently working from home and practicing social distancing, here are a few streaming home workout ideas.

AP Style Reminders - Health and Fitness terms - image of a group of people stretching in a workout class


Since it was initiated and spread via social media, AP Style is to always include the hashtag when referencing the #MeToo movement.

AP Style Reminders - #MeToo - image of a woman holding up a white sign with #MeToo written on it

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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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