AP Style Updates: Serial Comma, Headline Style, and Pronouns

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Key Takeaways

– AP style updates were discussed in a recent webinar featuring Grammar Girl.
– The use of the serial comma is a style preference in AP style.
– Headlines should be in sentence case and present tense.
– Arabic numerals are used in headlines, even if it’s the first word.
– AP style now allows for the use of gender-neutral pronouns like “they.”


In a recent webinar, Grammar Girl, also known as Mignon Fogarty, shared her expertise on AP style updates. AP style, short for Associated Press style, is a widely used writing style guide for journalists and other writers. The webinar covered various topics, including the use of the serial comma, headline style, and pronouns. These updates reflect the changing attitudes and preferences in language usage. In this article, we will delve deeper into these AP style updates and explore their implications for writers and journalists.

The Serial Comma: A Style Preference

The use of the serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, has long been a subject of debate among writers. In AP style, the serial comma is a style preference rather than a strict rule. The serial comma is the comma used before the conjunction in a list of three or more items. For example, in the sentence “I bought apples, oranges, and bananas,” the serial comma is the comma after “oranges.” AP style allows for the omission of the serial comma, but it can be used for clarity in certain cases. Writers should be consistent in their use of the serial comma throughout their writing.

Headline Style: Sentence Case and Present Tense

Headlines play a crucial role in capturing readers’ attention and conveying the main points of an article. In AP style, headlines should be in sentence case, which means only the first letter of the first word is capitalized, along with any proper nouns or acronyms. For example, a headline might read “New Study Reveals Surprising Results.” Additionally, headlines should be in the present tense, even if the article discusses past events. This helps create a sense of immediacy and relevance for the reader. By following these guidelines, writers can create engaging and informative headlines that adhere to AP style.

Pronouns: Embracing Gender Neutrality

Language is constantly evolving, and AP style reflects this by updating its guidelines on pronouns. In the past, gender-neutral pronouns like “xe” or “ze” were used to refer to individuals who did not identify as strictly male or female. However, AP style now allows for the use of the singular “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun. This change reflects the growing acceptance and recognition of non-binary and gender non-conforming individuals. Writers and journalists should be mindful of using inclusive language and respecting individuals’ preferred pronouns. By embracing gender neutrality in their writing, they can create a more inclusive and respectful environment for all readers.

Implications for Writers and Journalists

These AP style updates have important implications for writers and journalists. By understanding and implementing these guidelines, writers can ensure their work adheres to industry standards and maintains consistency. The use of the serial comma, while not mandatory, can enhance clarity in lists and prevent ambiguity. Headlines in sentence case and present tense can grab readers’ attention and convey the main points effectively. Finally, the inclusion of gender-neutral pronouns like “they” allows for more inclusive and respectful language. By incorporating these updates into their writing, writers and journalists can stay current and adapt to the evolving landscape of language usage.

Adapting to Change: Challenges and Opportunities

While these AP style updates provide clarity and guidance, they also present challenges and opportunities for writers and journalists. Adapting to new guidelines and incorporating them into established writing habits can be a learning curve. However, it also presents an opportunity for growth and improvement. By embracing these updates, writers can enhance their skills and broaden their understanding of language usage. Additionally, these updates reflect the changing attitudes and preferences of readers. By staying up-to-date with AP style, writers and journalists can better connect with their audience and create content that resonates.


In conclusion, the recent webinar featuring Grammar Girl shed light on important AP style updates. The use of the serial comma, headline style, and pronouns were discussed in detail. These updates reflect the changing landscape of language usage and aim to create more clarity, inclusivity, and relevance in writing. By incorporating these updates into their work, writers and journalists can adhere to industry standards and connect with their audience more effectively. As language continues to evolve, it is essential for writers to stay informed and adapt to these changes. AP style provides a valuable framework for achieving this, and by following its guidelines, writers can navigate the ever-changing world of language with confidence.

Written by Martin Cole

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