While writing is an ancient form of self-expression, mastering it is tough, even in the year 2023.
Writing about and with AI
It might be tempting, but don’t use periods with the term “AI.” Simply write the letters out, Fogarty said.
Fogarty said that the AP Stylebook says that it’s important to not make AI a sentient being or refer to it using gendered terms.
“You don’t want to use language that attributes human characteristics to these systems,” she said. “So even though it often feels like it, they don’t have thoughts or feelings.”
Another tip to keep in mind is that the AI systems are built by “people who have their own human biases and aims,” Fogarty said.
“You have to constantly be on the lookout for those kinds of subtle biases in addition to the just blatantly ugly ones.”
Fogarty added that AI can also often provide wrong information convincingly. Be wary and diligent in checking for these kinds of potential errors.
“The particularly scary thing about these wrong answers is that they sound plausible,” Fogarty said. “For example, it said that I had a master’s in linguistics from UC Santa Cruz.”
There’s a kernel of truth there. Fogarty — who attended UC Santa Cruz and does work related to linguistics — doesn’t hold that particular degree from that school.
“Even more alarmingly, this wrong information is making its way into search results,” Fogarty said. “So, it’s already creating a dangerous information feedback loop. What this means is that you have to verify every fact that you want to use that you’ve gotten from AI. And ideally, you need to do so from at least two sources, or at least one trusted, credible source.”
Hyphens and dashes
What’s the difference between an em dash, en dash and hyphen?
The em dash (—) is as long as the capital letter “M,” and the en dash (–) is as long as the capital letter “N,” Fogarty said, adding that AP style only uses the em dash.
“When somebody talks about a dash in AP style you can assume it’s the em dash,” she said. “And note that the (dash) names are written without hyphens.”
Hyphens are shorter than either dash. They join words or show a range.
Key rules for using dashes:
- Put spaces around the dashes.
- Use to create a strong sense of separation or emphasis.
- Use where commas or parentheses aren’t enough in a sentence.
- With bulleted lists:
- AP style uses dashes instead of bullets (but it’s fine to use the circle bullets, as we’re doing now).
- Capitalize the first word after the dash.
- Put a period at the end of each section, whether it’s a complete sentence or not.
- They add emphasis.
- Use them to set off a series that contains commas. Fogarty gave this sentence as an example: “He listed the qualities — intelligence, humor, conservatism, independence — that he liked in an executive.”
Hyphen key rules:
- Unlike dashes, there are no spaces around hyphens.
- Use them to show a range of dates, like Sept. 1-3, or scores, such as, The Pistons beat the Lakers 123-111.
- Use hyphens for compound modifiers before nouns, such as “long-term care.”
- Do not use hyphens if the modifier comes after the noun: His care needs to be long term.
Well-known phrases like “high school play” or chocolate chip cookie” don’t need a hyphen. Fogarty said that this is a judgment call, and the biggest goal is to avoid confusion in a sentence.
Fogarty noted that AP style updated hyphen rules around dual heritage terms like “African American” and “Asian American.” These types of terms are no longer hyphenated. “Antisemitic” is not hyphenated either and the “s” is lowercase.
When in doubt about all these rules, pick up the AP Stylebook for a refresher, which Fogarty keeps by her bedside. Also, don’t be afraid to break rules occasionally, Fogarty suggests.
“A lot of things you think are rules, the things you learned along the way in school, or as a writer, are actually styles,” Fogarty said.
Some styles include comma placement, how to format numbers and even what words have hyphens.
“The things that are really rules usually relate to the most basic parts of grammar — capitalization or punctuation … but once things get more complicated, you’re often relying on styles,” Fogarty said.
Let us know your favorite AP style updates in the comments or what house style you frequently use in your writing.
Sherri Kolade is a writer and conference producer at Ragan Communications. She enjoys watching old films, reading and building an authentically curated life. Follow her on LinkedIn. Have a great PR/comms speaker in mind for one of Ragan’s events? Email her at email@example.com.