The New York Times Style: Fine Distinctions beyond the Newsroom

The New York Times Style: Fine Distinctions beyond the Newsroom

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.

Titles: Quote Marks, Italics, Underlining, or Naked?

Titles: Quote Marks, Italics, Underlining, or Naked?

Remember the days when your manual typewriter didn’t have a key for the number 1, so you used a lowercase letter L instead? And to type an exclamation point, you typed an apostrophe first, backspaced, and then typed a period beneath it? Sure you do, punk.

Clarification: I’m not that old; my high school was poor. We pasted our newspaper dummies together with wax and made type changes with a dull razor.

Well, we don’t type that way anymore, because technology has blessed us with 1s and !s on our keyboards. Likewise, because we are capable of rendering type in italics, you underline titles only when writing them by hand or using software that doesn’t italicize. As long as you remember that underlining equals italics and to never underline when you can italicize, you’re good.

You can get pretty far by following the “Big/heavy equals italics” (like books) and “Small/light equals quotes” (like poems) generalizations.




As for enclosing titles in quotation marks or italicizing them, you can get pretty far by following the “Big/heavy equals italics” (like books) and “Small/light equals quotes” (like poems) generalizations, but Associated Press style doesn’t italicize nothin’ and Chicago style has layers of specificity and if-then statements. Fun!

Because the Associated Press stylebook is not indexed and the manual for Chicago style covers title style in several sections (intermixed with name style and capitalization style), some title styles may have been inadvertently omitted due to oblivion on my part. Please send me a note if any oversight makes you twitch.

It’s all arbitrary, so go for clarity and sustainability.

Following is the breakdown between AP style and Chicago style. This is intended as a quick rundown or cheat sheet; for examples of each, please refer to the pages and sections indicated. “Neither” means that the usual headline-style (or title-style) caps still apply, but the title/name is naked as far as quotes and italics are concerned. (Capitalization for titles will be covered in a future blog entry.)

Note: Use Command-F or Ctrl-F to perform searches.



Titles for . . .APChicago
AlbumsQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.192)
AlmanacsNeither (p. 62)
AppsNeither (p. 62), e.g., Facebook, FoursquareItalics (8.193)
ArtQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.193)
ArticlesQuotes (8.175)
BibleNeither (p. 62)
Blog entriesQuotes (8.187)
BlogsItalics (8.187)
BooksQuotes (p. 62)—but the Bible and catalogs of reference material use neitherItalics (8.166)—but book series and editions use neither (8.174)
CartoonsItalics (8.194)
CatalogsNeither (p. 62)
ChaptersQuotes (8.175)
Classical music, nicknamesQuotes (p. 63)
Classical music, identified by sequenceNeither (p. 63)
Columns (in periodicals)Neither (8.175, 14.205)
Comic stripsItalics (8.194)
Computer games and computer-game appsQuotes (p. 62), e.g., “Farmville”Italics (Chicago Style Q&A)
Computer softwareNeither for software such as WordPerfect or Windows (p. 62)
ConferencesNeither (8.69)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes
Departments (in periodicals)Neither (8.175, 14.202)
DictionariesNeither (p. 62)
DirectoriesNeither (p. 62)
DrawingsItalics (8.193)
EncyclopediasNeither (p. 62)
EssaysQuotes (8.175)
Exhibitions (large)Neither (8.195)
Exhibitions (small)Italics (8.195)
Fairs (large)Neither (8.195)
Fairs (small)Italics (8.195)
GazetteersNeither (p. 62)
HandbooksNeither (p. 62)
JournalsItalics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
Lecture seriesNeither (8.86)
Lectures (individual)Quotes (p. 62)Quotes (8.86)
MagazinesNeither (p. 159)Italics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
MeetingsNeither (8.69)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes
MoviesQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.185)
NewspapersItalics (8.166)—unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
OperasQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.189)—for long musical compositions or instrumental works, see 8.189-8.190
PaintingsItalics (8.193)
PamphletsItalics (8.193)
PeriodicalsItalics (8.166), unless part of name of award, organization, etc. (8.170)
PhotographsItalics (8.193)
PlaysQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.181)
Podcast episodesQuotes (8.187)
PodcastsItalics (8.187)
PoemsQuotes (p. 62)Quotes (8.179)—unless book length, then treated as book (italics)
Radio episodes (in series)Quotes (8.185)
Radio programs and seriesQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.185)
ReportsItalics (8.193)
Short storiesQuotes (8.175)
SongsQuotes (p. 62)Quotes (8.189)
SpeechesQuotes (p. 62)Neither (8.75)—unless it has “status,” then use quotes.
StatuesItalics (8.193)
Television episodes (in series)Quotes (8.185)
Television programs and seriesQuotes (p. 62)Italics (8.185)
Unpublished worksQuotes (8.184)
Video blogsItalics (8.187)
Video-blog episodesQuotes (8.187)
Web pages and sectionsQuotes (8.186)
WebsitesNeither (8.186)

When it gets confusing, just remember these golden rules of copyediting:

  1. Whatever you choose, be consistent.
  2. But beware of having a tin ear.
  3. It’s all arbitrary, so go for clarity and sustainability.

Good luck.

Different Goals, Different Styles: Why AP and Chicago Are Not Friends

Different Goals, Different Styles: Why AP and Chicago Are Not Friends

Update: Since publication of this exposé, AP and Chicago have become friends (with benefits).

AP and Chicago have very clear yet conflicting intentions, often producing diametrically opposed styles.

If I think of AP as governing “fast content” (newspapers, online articles) and Chicago as governing “slow content” (books, some periodicals), you can see how the different styles grew from different needs.

The different styles grew from different needs.

Main differences in concerns and goals:

  • Layout: With newspaper columns (and online articles), you cannot always control where the break comes at the end of the line, whereas book and magazine publishers can fiddle with kerning, tracking, horizontal scaling, and soft returns, like, forever. Why this matters: Spaces around an em dash will allow it to break across two lines instead of dragging the words before and after it to the next line. Graphic designers working on a magazine article can, instead, manually insert a break after the dash and take their time making things look purdy.



  • Deadlines: Most dailies and many weeklies are constantly under deadline. Having several nuanced style options to choose from will make the editors kill themselves, and that level of clarity is seen as excessive. The other camp, however, has more time to clarify a thought and nitpick its presentation.
  • Compatibility: Ever get an e-mail with weird characters throughout? For copy to travel well—say, from final draft to wire to computer to publication—it must stay intact through its incarnations, with all intended letters, spaces, and punctuation in place. This places a premium on plainness, such as favoring characters over attributes (e.g., quote marks vs. italics). Non-journalistic content generally travels between fewer points and in the same form.

Otherwise kooky style rules come out looking quite reasonable when given the right context.

Maybe I just made all that up, but it sounds good, right? To me, it explains a whole lot, and otherwise kooky style rules come out looking quite reasonable when given the right context.

That’s me being positive.

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