Style and grace

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Travel Weekly, like any periodical, abides by a set of standards that dictate when words are capitalized, when commas apply, when hyphens are called for, when to abbreviate words, etc. Generally, we rely on the Associated Press style. We amend AP sometimes because some AP rules seem unclear, outdated or even a little unreasonable. And AP does not cover things that are unique to the trade.

Our goal is to produce stories, photo captions and headlines that are easy to read. We regularly reassess to determine if we are meeting our goal of clarity. That is how, last year, we came to change our headline style from uppercase/lowercase ("DOJ Sues AA in Antitrust Case") to lowercase ("DOJ sues AA in antitrust case").

We also aim to keep up with the times. This is why, last year, we dropped the http:// in Web addresses, except when there is no www. To make things more readable, only last year were writers given approval to use contractions like "don't" and "can't" if they think a sentence is too stilted otherwise.

The most obscure question can be cause for long newsroom debates. One discussion followed the fall of the Iron Curtain. After much chatter -- and heat -- we stopped writing Western and Eastern Europe. Those were outdated political designations. Now, we write western and eastern Europe, indicating geography.

We do only one thing that gets readers into this. We decline to write certain company names or acronyms in all caps. We use upper/lowercase for names that are not acronyms (as in Xtra Online); the same applies to acronyms of five letters or more if the acronym can be said as a word, as in Sabre and Ustar. The rule comes from AP, but the real basis is readability. It is easier to read words that are not written all caps.

Writers must not say "preplanned," "prepackaged" or "all-inclusive" because those words mean the same thing as "planned," "packaged" and "inclusive." Think about it. Generally, for simplicity, standard newspaper style calls for the shorter version of a word or idea. I like this from our style memos: "Tennis courts are lighted. Only drunks are lit."

The pace of change here, when it comes to style, is close to glacial and for a reason. News reporting is not literature, and we do not aim to invent language or unique usages. The best style is the style you do not notice; good style stays out of your way as you read this paper for content. Now that I have brought up the subject, you will notice it for a time. The sooner you forget this column, the better.

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