AP Style: Rules for Black Culture, COVID-19, Climate Change, & More

We know journalists are busy, and it can be difficult to keep up with recent AP Style rules and 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 and Reminders for Writers

It’s time for another quarterly check-in of AP Stylebook updates. With many changes happening throughout the world, there are changes to style guides to reflect them.

Here’s a recap.

Black Culture

AP Stylebook does lowercase black and white, though the rule is being discussed as many prefer to capitalize Black. Both the L.A. Times and BuzzFeed recently updated their style guides to capitalize Black when referring to people of the African diaspora, and their identity and culture.

(Update: On June 19, the rule was updated to capitalize Black.)

Just a reminder that no hyphen is needed when referring to dual heritages: African American, Asian American, etc.

Black and white should not be used as singular nouns. For plurals, the correct usage would be black people, white people, etc.

The terms biracial and multiracial are acceptable when relevant but are usually more useful when describing large, diverse groups as opposed to individuals.

black woman wearing a flower crown


  • Making a mask from materials at home? Bandanna (two n’s) is preferred, although bandana (single n) is acceptable as well.
  • Shelter in place and stay at home are verbs. Shelter-in-place and stay-at-home are adjectives. For example: The governor’s stay-at-home order means residents needs to shelter in place.
  • All acceptable on first reference: the coronavirus; the new coronavirus; the new virus; and COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus. Do not write “a new virus called COVID-19.”
  • You do not need to include hyphens in the terms social distancing or personal protective equipment. Also, you should not be using PPE unless part of a direct quote – spell it out.
  • Global pandemic is redundant.
  • It’s lock down (v.) and lockdown (n., adj.).
  • When writing N95 face mask, do not use a hyphen.
  • Drive-thru is correct, drive-through is not.

COVID-19 mask graffiti on a wall

Climate Change

Although climate change and global warming are used interchangeably, climate change is the more accurate term that describes the effects of increasing levels of greenhouse gases. It includes extreme weather events.

Global warming, the increase of average temperature around the world, is one aspect of climate change.

AP Style Rules - climate change, melting glaciersCARES Act

You should not refer to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act as a stimulus, a stimulus package, etc.

The measure was passed to replace money lost in the collapse of the economy, rather than to stimulate demand.

AP Style Rule - Washington, DC

Basketball Tournaments

The correct terms are Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four.

ICYMI: The NBA season will restart in July, and some of the journalists covering the games may be sequestered at Walt Disney World along with the athletes for several months.

AP Style Rules - basketball terms

Gender-Neutral Terms

Use terms that can apply to any gender: search instead of manhunt, police officer instead of policeman, or door attendant instead of doorman. If a word or term seems to emphasize one gender over another, try to use a substitute.

AP Style Rules - gender restroom sign

Formal Titles

Always capitalize and abbreviate the following titles before a name: Dr., Gov., Lt. Gov., Rep., Sen., and certain military ranks.

Spell out all other titles.

closeup of a doctor in a white coat holding stethoscope

Spacing between sentences

AP Style is to only include one space after the period (or other punctuation) at the end of a sentence. Sentences do not need to be socially distant.

Microsoft Word recently updated to mark two spaces after a period as an error.

closeup of a keyboard


Always use numerals in monetary units like 18 cents, a $100 bill, or 9 pounds.

When writing millions, billions, trillions, etc., use figures: 1 million homes; $8 trillion.

strings of numbers on a screen


The 55th edition of the Stylebook was released on May 27. It was dedicated to Nick Jesdanun, AP’s deputy technology editor. Jasdanun worked on new technology entries for the updated Stylebook. He died of COVID-19 shortly after finishing his work.

The technology entries include:

  • When writing about tech, keep your audience in mind. Younger generations are more familiar with technology and will require less of an explanation, while the same language could confuse older readers. Always try to avoid jargon.
  • Don’t include a hyphen in cyberbullying, cybercafe, or cyberspace. However, add a space to Cyber Monday and cyber shopping.
  • Fintech is short for financial technology. It’s OK to use on first reference, but define it if context doesn’t make it clear.
  • Big Tech refers to companies that dominated global commerce in the 2010s, including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.

electronic chip

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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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