ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How Word Preferences in the AP Styleguide Reveal Bias

Updated on January 8, 2018
tamarawilhite profile image

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, an industrial engineer, a mother of two, and a published sci-fi and horror author.


The Associated Press Styleguide, or AP styleguide for short, is one of the leading standards for modern writers. The AP style is required by many magazines, newspapers and online references.

Authors, reporters and writers must adhere to the AP style guide to be accepted by many paying customers. This means that wording and terminology called out in the AP style guide affects how information is communicated to the public.

The AP style guide has set the standard for formatting and terminology used for reporting for decades.
The AP style guide has set the standard for formatting and terminology used for reporting for decades. | Source

Examples of Bias in the AP Style Guide

The AP Styleguide's entry for "disabled, handicapped and impaired" states that writers should not suggest that someone suffers from something or is afflicted with it. The term handicapped should be avoided unless describing something like a handicapped parking spot. People cannot be referred to as handicapped or disabled, even if they are disabled or left less able due to the disability. It does not sink to the level of confusion as "differently able", but limitations on the ability to say how affected someone is by a disability limits the understanding of readers as the impact the disability has on the afflicted individual. This is not as drastic as University of New Hampshire's “Bias-Free Language Guide”, where they say non-disabled should be used instead of "normal". This linguistic trick is done in an effort to normalize the abnormal, though the end result is clunky language, unnecessary confusion and does nothing to help those who are disabled or otherwise handicapped.

In reference to religion, the Associated Press Styleguide says that "liberal" religious groups can be described as "activist", "more flexible" or holding a "broad view". There is no room in this interpretation for activists being conservative, as happened when reform Jews chose a more conservative version than the mainstream, liberal denominations. Choosing the term "broad view" to refer to liberal religious groups also ignores the fact that many activists are as strict in their theoretically more flexible views as religiously conservative groups can be.

The AP style guide states that the terms pro-abortion and anti-abortion should be used instead of pro-life and pro-choice. Pro-abortion is clear in its meaning compared to pro-choice. However, the preference for the term "abortion rights" and "anti-abortion rights" suggests that abortion is a right and those who are opposed to abortion are against basic human rights instead of supporting a right to life.

According to the AP, one says "the prophet Muhammad" but no similar entry for the Christian equivalent, Jesus Christ (the messiah) or Moshe Rabeinu (Moses our teacher). In 2004, the AP changed the translation of "Allahu Akbar" from "Allah is great" to "God is great" to reduce the perceived difference between Islam and other deities. This is similar to the nation of Malaysia saying that Christians couldn't use the term "Allah" to refer to the Christian god, even when translating documents into Arabic. Allah was a word for Muslims alone, even when discussing the Muslim supreme power.

The Associated Press likewise dropped the term Islamicist in 2013 at the request of CAIR, mandating terms like militant instead. The fact that their militant actions are driving by an Islamic theology is deemed irrelevant.

Likewise, Muslim terrorists are more likely identified as gunmen or "lone wolves" or attackers than as terrorists - and the religion of the attackers is not to be named if at all possible.

There are, however, sections delineating the views of many large Christian sects as it has for major Muslim groups.

The preference for gender neutral is taken to an extreme in the Associated Press style guide. The term mankind should be dropped in favor of mankind. Firemen should be described as firefighters, even if all of them are men.

Alcoholics are described as recovering, not reformed. This implies recovering from an accident or illness, not a deliberate choice to alter behavior. One recovers from dehydration or a virus; one must choose to stop drinking and reform oneself to stop abusing alcohol.

The Associated Press banned the term "Illegal alien" in April, 2013. It instead suggests the term "undocumented immigrant", a more benign term that ignores the fact that illegal aliens are breaking the law to be where they are. Instead, it adopted a term that sounds as if they lost their driver's license. In comparison, the University of New Hampshire sent out a “Bias-Free Language Guide” that advised against using the word “American,” labeling it “problematic”, in July of 2015. Both linguistic wranglings reflect a negative view of nationalism, particularly American nationalism.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)