Quick Reference Guide

Numbers

Abbreviations

Academic Degrees

Capitalization

Dates

Directions/Regions

Ethnicities

Seasons

Time

Titles 

Punctuation

Numbers

In general, spell out the numbers one through nine; for 10 and up, use Arabic numerals (10, 26, 400, etc.). Exceptions to this rule include the following — in which numerals should always be used:

Age: The 8-year-old boy

Days of the month: February 12, 2010

Temperature: 100 degrees

Dimensions: The 5-foot-6-inch man

Percentages: The mixture was 2 percent water

Proportions: 2 parts powder, and 6 parts water

Scores: The won 26 to 8

Serial Numbers: The code is A564915

Speeds: He was going 55 mph

Sums of money: He made $8 an hour

Time of day: It's 5:00 p.m. somewhere

Years: The two met in 1965

Roman numerals for wars and to show personal sequence for people and animals: World War II, King George VI, Pope John XXIII.

Sequence in time/location: Spell out first through ninth (first base, the First Amendment, he was first in line). Starting with the 10th, use figures: The 12th Annual COSA Award's Banquet.

Large numbers: If you must write out a large number, use a hyphen to connect a word ending in y to another word.

  • Twenty-one, one hundred forty-three, seventy-six thousand five hundred eighty-seven.

Casual expressions: Spell out (A thousand times no!)

Proper names: Use words or numerals according to an organization’s practice (3M, Twentieth Century FOX, Big Ten).

Abbreviations

United States: As a noun, use United States. The prime minister left for the United States yesterday. As an adjective, use U.S. (no spaces). A U.S. soldier was killed in Iraq two days ago.

States: Spell out state names in text when they appear alone. This year's peach crop has been the best Georgia has seen in eight years. Abbreviate states when they appear in conjunction with the name of a city, town, village or military base: Valdosta, Ga.

Never abbreviate Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah (the two states that are not part of the contiguous United States and the states that are five letters or fewer).

When abbreviating U.S. states, within a document, follow the below style:

Ala. Ga. Mich. N.J. R.I. Wis.

Ariz. Ill. Minn. N.M. S.C. Wyo.

Ark. Ind. Miss. N.Y. S.D.

Calif. Kan. Mo. N.C. Tenn.

Colo. Ky. Mont. N. D. Vt.

Conn. La. Neb. Okla. Va.

Del. Md. Nev. Ore. Wash.

Fla. Mass. N.H. Pa. W.Va.

Place one comma between the city and the state name, and another after the state name, unless at the end of a sentence or in a dateline. She traveled from San Diego, Calif., to go to school in Kansas City, Mo. Now, she may move to Valdosta, Ga.

When writing a city that is not well-known, write the state with it for the first mention. Certain well-known cities — including New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York — never require a state. For a complete list of well-known cities, reference the latest AP Stylebook.

 Academic Degrees

Avoid abbreviations: Billy Bob, who has a doctorate in philosophy (rather than Billy Bob, Ph.D., plans to move to Los Angeles).

Formal degree name: Do not use an apostrophe. He earned a Bachelor of Arts or a Master of Science.

Informal reference to degree: Use an apostrophe. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Abreviations: Use B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. only when in a long list or the need to identify many people by degree on first reference would make the preferred method cumbersome; use the abbreviations only after a full name and set the abbreviations off with commas.

Capitalization

Titles that preceed a name, but lowercase them when they title follows the name or stands alone.

President Dr. Richard Moore was presented the Life Achievement Award.
Richard Moore, president of Bayridge University, was presented the Life Achievement Awarded.

Specific regions, but not the points of the compass. The Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Southern Georgia. He drove west to Texas.

Names of religions, adjectives denoting religious denominations: Baptist, Catholic, etc.

Races and nationalities, but put descriptive adjectives in lower case: He is an American student studying in France. More than 100 black students participated in Black History Month events.

College degrees: Capitalize the formal degree title: He earned a Bachelor of Arts. Do not capitalize in informal reference: He earned a bachelor's degree in arts. The preferred form is to avoid abbreviations and write out the degree, but in long lists or when you are listing multiple people and their degrees, use the abbreviation without space between letters.

Proper nouns: People's names, names of associations, societies, companies, streets, governmental agencies, holidays, historic events, etc.

Colleges and Departments: Capitalize the formal names of schools and departments on first reference, but use the informal names whenever possible.

Chapter, room, highway, etc. when followed by a number or letter.
Administration 33 Lakeway Inn, Room 2 Interstate 5

Seasons: DO NOT capitalize. Students love living in Valdosta because the spring is such a lovely time.

Headlines: Capitalize proper nouns or words with more than four letters in headlines. DO NOT capitalize prepositions, conjunctions, or articles in titles of books, etc., except when they begin the title.

Dates

Always use Arabic figures, without st, nd, rd or th.

Month and Date: Abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug. Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. The event was held Friday, Feb. 12 but a second event will be held Wednesday, June 23.

Month and Year: Do not separate the month and the year with commas. (e.g. February 1980 was his best month.)

Month, Day and Year: Set off the date with commas: She met with him on Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, for the first time.

 Directions/Regions

Lowercase compass directions north, south, northeast, northern, etc. when they indicate compass direction: The cold front is moving east.

Capitalize names of U.S. regions: The Northeast depends on the Midwest for its food supply. A storm system that
developed in the Midwest is spreading eastward. The “Middle East” applies to Afghanistan, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The term is preferable to “Mideast.”

Country names: Lowercase compass points unless they are part of a proper name or are used to designate a politically divided nation: northern France, western United States, Northern Ireland.

States and cities: Lowercase compass points when they describe a section of a state or city: western Massachusetts, southern Atlanta. However, capitalize compass points when used in denoting widely known sections: Southern California, the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Ethnicities

The preferred usage for African Americans is “black.” The term is not capitalized. Use African American if a person self-describes himself/herself as such. Preferred usage for Caucasians is “white,” also not capitalized. Preferred usage for Asian people is “Asian,” capitalized. “American Indian,” capitalized with no hyphen, is preferred over “Native American.”

Seasons

Lowercase “spring,” “summer,” “fall” and “winter” and derivatives such as “wintertime” unless part of a formal name: I love Paris in the springtime or the Winter Olympics.

Time

Use figures except for noon and midnight.

Hours from minutes: Use a colon to separate. He ate at 2:30 a.m., and his heartburn never forgave him.

O'clock: 4 o’clock is acceptable, particularly in narrative writing, but time listings with a.m. or p.m. are preferred

Titles

Follow the below rules for titles of books, computer games, movies, operas, plays, poems, songs, television programs, lectures, speeches and works of art:

  • Put quotation marks around the title.
  • Capitalize the first and last words of the title.
  • Capitalize the principal words, including all verbs and prepositions and conjunctions with more than three letters
  • Translate a foreign title into English, unless the American public knows the work by its foreign name: Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra”; Mozart’s “Magic Flute” BUT “Amores Perros”; “The Bhagavad-Gita.”
  • Of newspapers and magazines:
  • Do not place in quotation marks.
  • Capitalize the in the name if that is the way the publication prefers to be known.
  • Lowercase the before names if listing several publications, some of which use the as part of the name and some of which do not: Time Newsweek, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Where location is needed but not part of the official name, use parentheses: The Huntsville (Ala.) Times, The Toledo (Ohio) Blade.
  • Of places: The best reference for all place names is the “U.S. Postal Service Directory of Post Offices.

Do not put academic course titles in quotation marks or italics. Similarly, do not place the titles of magazines and newspapers in quotation marks or italics. Lowercase "the" before names if listing several publications, some of which use the as part of the name and some of which do not: Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Punctuation

Apostrophe (')

Plural nouns ending in s: Add only an apostrophe. tThe girls' toys, states' rights.

Singular common nouns ending in s: Add 's. The hostess's invitation, the witness's answer.

Singular proper names ending in s: Use only an apostroph. Descartes' theories, Kansas' schools.

Singular proper names ending in s sounds such as x, ce, and z: Use 's. Marx's theories, the prince's life.

Plurals of a single letter: Add 's. Mind your p's and q's, the Red Sox defeated the Oakland A's.

Plurals of numbers or multiple letter combinations: the 1980s, RBIs

Colon (:)

Capitalize the first word after a colon only if it is a proper noun or the start of a complete sentence: He promised this: The company will make good all the losses. But: There were three considerations: expense, time and feasibility.

Colons go outside quotation marks unless they are part of the quoted material.

Comma (,)

Do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: John, Paul,

George and Ringo; red, white and blue.

Use a comma to set off a person's hometown and age: Jane Doe, Framingham,

was absent. Joe Blow, 34, was arrested yesterday.

Dashes ( - ) and (—)

There are two kinds of dashes — of different length and for different purposes — in addition to the hyphen.

Em dash (—) is the true dash, used for parenthetical remarks or abrupt changes of thought, epigraphs, and datelines.

En dash (–) Shorter than an em dash, it is used for continuing or inclusive numbers or words (range constructions: pages 7-10; Jan. 5-9; E-P; Monday-Friday), but not when the word “from” is actually used (1968-72 or from 1968 to 1972 , never from 1968-72).

Hyphen (-)

Compound adjectives before the noun: well-known actor, full-time job, 20-year sentence. Do not use a hyphen when the compound modifier occurs after the verb: The actor was well known. Her job became full time. He was sentenced to 20 years. Do not use a hyphen to denote an abrupt change in a sentence—use a dash.

Parentheses

The perceived need for parentheses is an indication that your sentence is becoming contorted. Try to rewrite the sentence, putting the incidental information in commas, dashes or in another sentence. If you do use parentheses, follow these guidelines:

  • If the material is inside a sentence, place the period outside the parentheses.
  • If the parenthetical statement is a complete independent sentence, place the period inside the parentheses.

Period

Use a single space after the period at the end of a sentence.

Do not put a space between initials: C.S. Lewis; G.K. Chesterton.

Quotation marks (“ ”)

In dialogue, each person’s words are placed in a separate paragraph, with quotation marks at the beginning and end of each person’s speech.

  • Periods and commas always go within quotation marks.
  • Dashes, semicolons, question marks and exclamation points go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted material. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.
  • Use single marks for quotes within quotes: She said, "He told me, 'I love you.'"

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