All writers, regardless of their audience, can benefit from knowing AP style.
For writers who dare delve into the realm of political writing, there can be a tough learning curve when it comes to correctly conveying official titles,
party affiliations and legal terms.
Lucky for us writers, editors from The Associated Press dedicated its weekly Twitter chat to giving tips on political style.
In response to written coverage of President Barack Obama’s final SOTU address—and with with an eye to this year’s election—here are a few items to note
regarding political terminology, per the editors of the AP Stylebook:
Setting the scene
Plenty of journalists get this one wrong, as the difference between a podium and a
lectern is slight. A podium is a raised platform on which a speaker would stand to deliver a speech. A lectern is a stand on which a
speaker can place his or her noted.
You would be correct in saying that Obama stepped onto the podium Jan. 12. It would also be correct to say that the president stood at or behind the lectern.
In coverage of public speaking events, it’s wise to note the venue.
In most cases, when referring to a candidate who isn’t affiliated with either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, the word independent (with a
lowercase “i") is used. As independent isn’t the name of a formal party, it’s designated as such by its lack of an uppercase letter. In case you were
curious, here’s a list of independent presidential candidates participating in the 2016 election.
The AP Stylebook says that GOP is acceptable to use on second reference for Republican Party. The Grand Old Party is the unrequired, but not forbidden,
spelling out of the term GOP.
If referring to a member of the U.S. House of Representatives on first reference, use Rep. or U.S. Rep. before his or her name. Same goes for the use of
Sen. when referring to a member of the Senate. Distinguish, as needed, between a U.S. senator and a state senator.
The AP Stylebook says it’s OK to use congressman or congresswoman (in lowercase) when the reference doesn’t use a person’s name.
If you’re still hoping to use the word congressman/woman—get a quote first. You can use the capitalized versions of these words as formal titles before a
name ONLY in a direct quotation.
Congress (i.e., the U.S. Congress) is capitalized when referring to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. According to the AP Stylebook, Congress
is commonly misused as a substitute when referring to the House, but the more proper usage refers to both the House and the Senate.
If you should find yourself covering the politics of foreign country, and that country happens to also use the term Congress, use the uppercase (e.g., the
When declaring winners
A primary caveat here is not to anoint a victor prematurely. Candidate X is not “winning” the New Hampshire primary, but rather leading in the polls in New
As there are many caucuses held around the country throughout election season, the caucus’s lowercase “c” is important to keep consistent. The words
primary (e.g., New Hampshire primary) or primary day (e.g., any of the days set aside for balloting in a primary) follow suit.
Also, when the remaining 2016 presidential candidates are handed their fate in November, make sure to call it Election Day, as it refers only to the day of
the general election. By the way, election night is lowercase.
RELATED: Join speechwriters for three U.S. presidents in our executive comms and speechwriters conference in Washington, D.C.
The AP Stylebook says Inauguration Day takes capitalization only when referring to the collection of events that include an inauguration of a U.S.
president; use lowercase when referring to other inaugural events.