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The New York Times Style: Fine Distinctions beyond the Newsroom

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Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Billed as “the official style guide used by the writers and editors of the world’s most authoritative news organization,” the 2015 edition of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage contains hundreds of changes made since the 2002 edition, increasing its usefulness to non-NYT writers and editors. The New York Times strives for impartial and specific language and is careful to avoid nuances that might be perceived as biased. Therefore, it recommends sect, not cult; concluded, not determined; avoid, not evade; change, not reform. Less-wordy constructions are preferred—The project will cost $X to $Y, not The project will cost between $X and $Y—but sometimes words are added or retained for the sake of clarity, as with using an article before each parallel noun in a series or a pair. The manual’s rulings on hopefully and split infinitives land in the traditionalists’ camp; however, its sensitivity to jargon, triteness, euphemisms, and redundancy provides insight into artful writing.
NYT style can be adapted as a supplement to AP style.
Its dictionary of choice is Webster’s New World College Dictionary, also the official reference for The Associated Press Stylebook. Unlike AP style, though, NYT style is not restricted to symbols transmittable over wires. With its guidance on italics, brackets, accent marks, and bullets, NYT style can be adapted as a supplement to AP style when transmission is unimportant. In addition to weighing in on popular tech terms (e.g., it discourages Google, tweet, and friend as verbs), it takes a stand on some matters where AP style remains silent, such as avoiding inner city for being euphemistic and inaccurate. In fact, the rationale behind its decisions is the most valuable part of the guide. Copyeditors will delight in parsing its fine distinctions—due to and because of, about and nearly—and learn to communicate more effectively, regardless of audience or industry.

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