AP: Spell out names of states in stories

AP is not done rocking the journalism world with style changes.

The following guidance went out on the AP wire Wednesday: “Effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories.” You will still use abbreviations in datelines, photo captions, lists, etc.

The change “also applies to newspapers cited in a story,” the guidance says. “For example, a story datelined Providence, R.I., would reference the Providence Journal, not the Providence (R.I.) Journal.” (For what it’s worth, you don’t have to call that jurisdiction the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” Rhode Island works fine.)

Full note:


Effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories. Datelines will continue to use abbreviations.

Currently, most state names are abbreviated in stories.

The change is being made to be consistent in our style for domestic and international stories. International stories have long spelled out state names in the body of stories.

State abbreviations will continue to be used in lists, agate, tabular material, nonpublishable editor’s notes and credit lines. They will also be used in short-form identification of political party affiliation. Photo captions will continue to use abbreviations, too.

This change will improve consistency and efficiency for domestic and international stories, eliminating the need to spell out all state names in international copy, and to abbreviate them in domestic copy.

Here is the new entry in the Stylebook Online.

SPELL OUT: The names of the 50 U.S. states should be spelled out when used in the body of a story, whether standing alone or in conjunction with a city, town, village or military base. No state name is necessary if it is the same as the dateline. This also applies to newspapers cited in a story. For example, a story datelined Providence, R.I., would reference the Providence Journal, not the Providence (R.I.) Journal. See datelines.

EIGHT NOT ABBREVIATED: The names of eight states are never abbreviated in datelines or text: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah.

Memory Aid: Spell out the names of the two states that are not part of the contiguous United States and of the continental states that are five letters or fewer.

IN THE BODY OF STORIES: Except for cities that stand alone in datelines, use thestate name in textual material when the city or town is not in the same state as the dateline, or where necessary to avoid confusion: Springfield, Massachusetts, or Springfield, Illinois. Provide a state identification for the city if the story has no dateline, or if the city is not in the same state as the dateline. However, cities that stand alone in datelines may be used alone in stories that have no dateline if no confusion would result.

ABBREVIATIONS REQUIRED: Use the state abbreviations listed at the end of this section:

—In conjunction with the name of a city, town, village or military base in most datelines. See datelines for examples and exceptions for large cities.

—In lists, agate, tabular material, nonpublishable editor’s notes and credit lines.

—In short-form listings of party affiliation: D-Ala., R-Mont. See party affiliation entry for details.

Following are the state abbreviations, which also appear in the entries for each state (postal code abbreviations in parentheses):

Ala. (AL) Md. (MD) N.D. (ND)

Ariz. (AZ) Mass. (MA) Okla. (OK)

Ark. (AR) Mich. (MI) Ore. (OR)

Calif. (CA) Minn. (MN) Pa. (PA)

Colo. (CO) Miss. (MS) R.I. (RI)

Conn. (CT) Mo. (MO) S.C. (SC)

Del. (DE) Mont. (MT) S.D. (SD)

Fla. (FL) Neb. (NE) Tenn. (TN)

Ga. (GA) Nev. (NV) Vt. (VT)

Ill. (IL) N.H. (NH) Va. (VA)

Ind. (IN) N.J. (NJ) Wash. (WA)

Kan. (KS) N.M. (NM) W.Va. (WV)

Ky. (KY) N.Y. (NY) Wis. (WI)

La. (LA) N.C. (NC) Wyo. (WY)

These are the postal code abbreviations for the eight states that are not abbreviated in datelines or text: AK (Alaska), HI (Hawaii), ID (Idaho), IA (Iowa), ME (Maine), OH (Ohio), TX (Texas), UT (Utah). Also: District of Columbia (DC).

Use the two-letter Postal Service abbreviations only with full addresses, including ZIP code.

PUNCTUATION: Place one comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence or indicating a dateline: He was traveling from Nashville, Tennessee, to Austin, Texas, en route to his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She said Cook County, Illinois, was Mayor Daley’s stronghold.

HEADLINES: Avoid using state abbreviations in headlines whenever possible.

MISCELLANEOUS: Use New York state when necessary to distinguish the state from New York City.

Use state of Washington or Washington state when necessary to distinguish the state from the District of Columbia. (Washington State is the name of a university in the state of Washington.)

The AP

Related: How did you/will you remember the spellings of state names?

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  • KenCarpenter

    I am physically unable to comply with this style change. My three typing fingers will not allow it. … My pet-peeve style suggestion — all numbers are expressed as numerals, and as such, never start a sentence with a number.

  • Joseph Hauger

    This isn’t about the stupidity of Americans — it’s about the elimination of as much punctuation as possible to make it easier for AP’s online customers who grapple with periods that cause headlines to stop short and summary paragraphs to end after five words.

  • https://dodgemedlin.blogspot.com Mark Dodge Medlin

    Yeah, but balanced against all the characters you’ll save writing “over” instead of “more than,” it’s not so bad.

  • Ray Fink

    Massachusetts. North Dakota, South Carolina. West Virginia.

  • Karl Mueller

    Maybe it’s just me, but if it’s necessary to abbreviate state names, why not just default to the postal code abbreviations? Universally understood by all literate Americans, brief (always….always….only TWO letters), clear (all caps, no annoying punctuation), and unique to each state. Nothing extraneous, no rules to memorize. Until that happens I don’t see much of an improvement here.

  • Benjamin Lukoff

    Evidence that this is because readers are “stupid”?

  • Benjamin Lukoff

    It’s not brief to write “Arizona”? Then why is there no call for abbreviating country names? (Saving characters is another matter—but of course it doesn’t matter online.)

    No, this is just the AP realizing that there’s no good reason to continue doing this. Nothing to do with Americans being too dumb to figure out abbreviations, which is pretty funny, Steve—I’ve never heard that one before.

  • Ricky Treon

    Yep. This goes against brevity and saving characters. Not cool.

  • Brian Haas

    Does this strike anyone else as particularly boneheaded in the age of shrinking newsprint? I mean, I get that we have unlimited space online, but the print product is still the main breadwinner at most newspapers. I’m not so sure newspapers will jump on this bandwagon very quickly.

  • Dan Joseph

    So my job gets more difficult because the readers are too stupid? Here’s an idea: READERS, LEARN STATE ABBREVIATIONS BEFORE YOU GET OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL!
    “Springfield, Mass. should be a pretty good indication that it’s NOT IN ILLINOIS!
    If the average readership was 8th grade reading level 5 years ago when I was in college, shall I presume it to be kindergarten by 2020?

  • Steve James

    They can say it’s for consistency all day long, but you’ll never be able to convince me it’s more about too many Americans being too dumb to figure out abbreviations. The stupid! It burns us!

  • Beau Yarbrough

    The Associated Press: Making things simultaneously simpler and more complicated since 1846.