AP style updates: Can you use the term ‘woke?’

Plus updates on terminology related to the LGBTQ+ community, climate change and more.

Associated Press Stylebook experts shared new style guidelines and updates during a recent virtual Ragan event, “The AP Stylebook Webinar: What’s new in AP style?”

Paula Froke, AP Stylebook editor, shared updates on changing linguistic trends and clarified some points of confusion to help us all write more clearly.

Froke also talked about the book’s style evolution over the years and the process of updating the book, which is a mainstay for journalists and PR pros.

“We get ideas from all over the place,” Froke said, including emails, questions from seminars like Ragan’s, social media and more. “Obviously, the Stylebook team itself is looking at the world at large and coming up with points that we should address.”


A couple of months ago, the AP style team added “woke” to its style guide. “Woke” is a slang term that initially was a positive description of someone awakening to racial or social justice issues. Nowadays, some conservative groups use it negatively to describe inclusive initiatives.

“This one has evolved over time, a fairly short amount of time,” Froke said.

Froke says because of the lack of clarity and varying opinions on the word it’s best to avoid using it at all. Use it only if within a direct quote.

Climate change

AP updated its guidance on climate change language, much of it focused on journalists, encouraging them to cover climate change in a broader way, not just in its focus on the weather. This is a helpful reminder when pitching around your ESG efforts, for example.

It’s best to avoid connecting one occurrence or weather event to climate change “unless a connection has been definitively established,” Froke said.

Froke said to discuss the “bigger background and context” when dissecting these topics.

Don’t use terms like “climate change deniers” or “climate change skeptics,” but be specific about what a person, or group believes or doesn’t.

“Those are overly broad terms,” Froke said. “They don’t capture the specific beliefs… This echoes our guidance throughout the book of not using shorthanded descriptions. Instead use more words. Be specific about whoever it is you’re talking about.”

Gender, sex and sexual orientation

The term “LGBTQ+ community” is acceptable to refer to lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning people, as well as terms that fall outside those labels, such as nonbinary people, asexual people and so on.

“Fewer or additional letters can be used to be more inclusive or in quotations and names of organizations and events, such as LGBT or LGBTQIA,” per the AP Stylebook.

Jeff McMillan, a member of the AP Stylebook committee, said that the language around gender, sex and sexual orientation is constantly evolving.

“We found that the minute we put out a print version of the AP Stylebook we’re pretty much updating it sometimes the next day with something that has changed or evolved,” McMillan said.

McMillan advised to avoid one-word compounds like “transman” or “transwoman.”

When applicable and relevant, say “transgender man” or “transgender woman.”

Subsequent references like, “trans man” or “trans woman” are fine, though, with a space, on second reference.

Deadnaming, or using a person’s name from before their gender transition, is considered offensive, insensitive and damaging.

Use a person’s prior name or pre-transition image only if required to understand a news article or if the person featured requested it, according to AP, including in obituaries.

“Those are decisions you probably need to consult with your sources (and) your manager on whether it’s worth using somebody’s deadname,” McMillan said.

Froke said that terminology is evolving all the time and AP style is changing with the times.

“Even people who closely this terminology aren’t up on all of it,” Froke said. “We do our best to capture it and explain it to folks who might encounter it because it does come up in coverage and will be increasingly the case as we go forward.”                                                                                                                             

The AP Stylebook 57th edition will be published next May. The online edition is updated throughout the year and is available here.

Sherri Kolade is a writer at Ragan Communications. When she is not with her family, she enjoys watching Alfred Hitchcock-style films, reading and building an authentically curated life that includes more than occasionally finding something deliciously fried. Follow her on LinkedIn. Have a great PR story idea? Email her at sherrik@ragan.com. 






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