When Style Passes You By

When Style Passes You By

February 4, 2020 By Andy Bechtel

The AP Stylebook plays an important role in my editing courses at UNC-Chapel Hill. Students use it to take quizzes and complete assignments, and they can use either the print or online version of the Stylebook.

My goal is not for students to memorize style entries but to have them learn how to identify potential problems and use a reliable resource to resolve them. Everything is open Stylebook.

In class, we also discuss how and why style guidelines evolve. Each year, the Stylebook changes. One of the signature events of the ACES national conference is the announcement from AP editors about new and revised entries.

The headline-grabbing updates this year included a new entry on race and a change from percent to % in most uses. These changes, which went into effect immediately, were topics of conversation at the conference and on social media.

I overlooked one update, however, and it affected my class, at least in a small way.

Shortly after the conference, my students edited and posted stories to the Durham VOICE, a website that covers news in a section of Durham, North Carolina. One of the stories mentioned “passersby,” and I docked the student editor a few points for not making it “passers-by,” as the Stylebook has long recommended.

After class, the student asked me about the grading of her assignment. She showed me that the freshly updated digital version of the book has “passerby” as one word. My print edition of the 2018 Stylebook still has it with a hyphen, of course.

The student and I weren’t on the same page anymore. After verifying that the AP editors had made this update, I refunded the points to the student and thanked her for pointing out the change.

Here’s a rule to remember: Don’t let your Stylebook pass you by.

Andy Bechtel teaches editing and writing at the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill. He is also a member of the ACES Education Fund board. He writes at and tweets at @andybechtel.

When Style Passes You By was originally published in Tracking Changes (Summer 2019 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.

Header Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.

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