Friday, February 2

Writing Web Sites: AP Stylebook

Last night, I was caught a bit off guard when one of my students opened up the AP Stylebook to inform me my take on "Website" was wrong, according to the Associated Press. So naturally, today I started doing some homework on this particular rule in what many, myself included, call the writer's bible.

Kudos to Debbie Weil over at Wordbiz Report for doing my homework for me and the rest of us back in 2003. She wrote Norman Goldstein, AP Stylebook editor, after 65 percent of her readers claimed "website" to be correct over "Web site." Goldstein wrote back...

"Style, in the sense we're talking about, really means a preference (in spelling or punctuation or capitalization or usage) when there is a choice to be made. AP made the choice of "Web site" for what we thought were very good, language-based, reasons. Others are free to use their preference - as long as it is clear to a reader and consistent.

However, none of us can claim to create a "new language," for the Internet, or elsewhere. (Every generation of teenagers, for example, comes up with its own "language," but it fades quickly into oblivion.) More creative writers than I have said - wisely - that "usage will push new meanings into currency no matter how many authorities hurl themselves into the path of change."

Weil then goes on to list several solid cases made by her readers, who would prefer AP change its ruling and give us the evidence we need to write Website or website as one word. Add me to the list of miffed writers. Web site needs to be fixed up for the times, giving way to Website or website (I don't care about caps).

I appreciate where Goldstein is coming from in his answer, but for those of us who preach that AP is the style of choice in today's world, using it as a higher authority for clients, students, and others, we need some help here. Too many allowances will undermine the original intent of clear and consistent communication, especially if we teach public relations practitioners to conform to AP Style as it is the style most embraced by newspapers and magazines worldwide (with exception, it seems, to the word Website). Too many allowances will toss more toward the Chicago Style Manual, which is being revised online with new vigor, causing the rest of us to study two sources (ha, I do anyway) as opposed to having one held high.

Sure, I suppose making up some hubub about the word Website seems a bit much, but the time has come for AP Style to revisit its ruling on "Web site" for what was thought to be very good, language-based, reasons. The reason I say this is because it has put us in the awkward position of either violating our trusted Style source or joining what appears to be an ever diminished percentage of readers who agree that "Web site" is right.



Debbie Weil on 2/2/07, 5:25 PM said...


I'd forgotten all about this. Can't believe it was four years ago. I agree with you... website or Website makes much more sense these days. I'll have to re-evaluate how I write it myself.

Rich on 2/3/07, 9:08 AM said...

Thanks for dropping by Debbie! I really appreciate it.

I keep asking myself if I start writing website, will it hinder my other AP arguments? Probably.

It takes a long time to educate some clients that titles following a name are not capped.

Of course, I've been writing it here, Website, so long, I'll lose some consistency if I go back.

Ah, the joys of a living language.

Rich on 2/6/07, 11:38 AM said...

After speaking with a few editors I know, they provided me their take on the logic behind the AP Style's "very good, language-based, reasons" about Web site. Good, bad, or indifferent:

1. The reason Web is capitalized is because it is short for World Wide Web, which is a proper name.

2. Site is a separate noun, making the shortened term Web an adjective in this usage.

3. Translation into other languages also plays a factor in some AP decisions.

So there you have it.

While I still think Website could be acceptable as a compound noun and wish AP Style would consider this, there may some reluctance to the common trend of creating compound words like "healthcare" where they never existed before.

More important for public relations professionals: most news editors will not "ding" you for violating this style guide rule because they appreciate it is in contention.

However, just because they are sympathetic to this contention, does not mean they are any less irritated by having to change upper case titles to lower case titles, among other common errors in news releases.

Anonymous said...

I ran across your site while doing my own research on another style question (or at least a question for me)- health care or healthcare?

Rich on 2/7/08, 8:47 AM said...

Hi Anon,

Good question. AP writes "health care."

However, it's an evolving word, and the answer for various media outlets seems to be tied to usage, eg. some might say "healthcare professionals" is accepted, but one provides health care.

The word is evolving because so many health care companies placed the "heathcare" in their names, which is fine as a name. This trend has been spilled into the language.

Technically, health care is correct in every instance unless it is part of name, eg. "Health care facility operator Sun Healthcare..."


Winston on 6/27/09, 10:13 AM said...

Hi. Speaking of style, does anyone know the correct AP Style for 9/11. Is it in quotes, italics, nothing? Thanks.

Sydney Knott

Rich on 8/14/09, 3:42 PM said...


I missed your question. As far as I know, 9/11 is the most accepted form, without any quotes or italics. However, it is usually used as an adjective, e.g., 9/11 terrorist attacks or atrocity or commission, etc.

Hope that helps.

All my best,

Anonymous said...

I work on the copy desk at a small newspaper in and I am curious about the increased use of the word "says" instead of "said" as an attribution. I learned many years ago to use "said" and of course never "says" in a headline, too. But, now I see it all the time on AP wire and am curious whether I missed an agreed-upon style change.
I enjoy your blog a lot!

Rich on 10/3/09, 8:46 AM said...

Great question. It really deserves it's own post.

The difference between "says" and "said" is very clear.

Use "says" if they will likely say it all the time.

Use "said" if they would say it one time.

As for increased usage, either journalists are choosing quotes that are indefinite or someone has taken to sounding more active, which would incorrect usage.

Hope that helps. And I am glad you enjoy the blog.

All my best,


Anonymous said...

Gosh, I don't know you, (I stumbled across this column while in a search engine for another word), but what you have written here violates everything I hold to be sacred. And, I do realize this is a very old column (some three years at this point, I believe).

As editors and writers, it is a disservice to our readers and the public in general to follow the whims, fads and trends in the spellings and phrasing of the day that satisfy the masses, who are mostly uneducated in grammar and untrained in language arts. On the contrary, it is our responsibility to learn the proper way words should be written, and AP Style is the universally-accepted standard, and perpetuate the correct way to bring the masses up to a higher standard.

What you are suggesting is that because your readers are more comfortable with "website" that as editors and writers, we should "dumb down" and lower our standards instead of educating and raising their standards.

I disagree. I understand the research and deliberation that went into the decision to choose "Web site" over "website," and it has nothing to do with how prolific the word has become in our vocabulary. If you understood the concept of AP Style instead of merely memorizing its principles, the decisions it makes regarding style would be apparent and quite logical to you. And, the AP Stylebook is full of explanations as to how it arrives at decisions. You have to read only a few of those to begin to see the pattern and start to understand AP Style well enough that you can accurately determine the way AP would rule on a word or phrase without ever seeing it in the AP Stylebook. The decisions are not at all arbitrary.

I encourage you, as I do all students of language arts, to not simply memorize AP Style, but comprehend it. When you do, the issues like the one you have broached here would be unnecessary and even sound silly.

I applaud AP for being humble in its response, as it always is, in making clear that the style is simply what AP has concluded is correct and not required for anyone else to follow. It is a choice.

However, if you are in the business of writing, teaching writing, editing or any other area where writing correctly is your goal, comprehending and adhering to AP Style is the only choice.

I hope this clarifies part of the issue for you.

Rich on 2/4/10, 9:09 AM said...


This is an old article. Did you read it? Did you read the comments?

I included exactly why Web site is preferred over website, including the research and deliberation. However, let's not forget that English is a living language and AP Style adopts, adapts, and changes too.

I hope this clarifies the issue for you.

All my best,

Rich on 6/16/10, 10:07 AM said...

Update: Getting back to my original point that English is a living language, AP Style has finally changed Web site to website.

It only took three years. :)


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