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May 17, 2008



Dan -- you wretch, I've now got to unlearn several of the "hyphen, one word, two words" rules that my proof reader has been drumming into me over the last three years! Or should I simply ignore your normally very good advice?


Is this AP, or just your personal take on the correct spacing for these words?

I've always been fond of that rule from Wired Style, "when in doubt, close it up."

Dan Santow

Hazel, sure, ignore my advice, just feel guilty about it; that at least would give me some selfish solace.

Dan, these rules are all based on AP Style. My personal preferences in some cases are to do things differently but I think in our business (PR, marketing, etc.) following AP is usually a good idea. Simplifies life a bit.


Thank you! This clarified a couple of things that I've been wrestling with for a while.

I'd also like to thank you for this blog. I'm not a writing professional (I'm a trainer and former academic librarian) but I find this site invaluable. My best friend (who IS a PR professional) found you when we were struggling with a Web site redesign and we both have had you in our feed readers ever since.


Dan, great list, but as a former editor and a non-practicing attorney whose nonpracticing specialty area is intellectual property, I take exception to "Googled" as acceptable usage. It is making generic a trademarked word, like "Hand me a Kleenex" rather than "Hand me a Kleenex tissue." Once it does becomes acceptable usage, the word become a generic, like "Hand me an aspirin," and therefore, is not capitalized. But I don’t think we’re there yet.

That said, in the interests of full disclosure, I still say “Googled” myself.


You should include a footnote (that's one word) stating that these are based on AP style, and that house style may vary from agency to agency. The copyeditors and proofreaders (both one word) are probably not wrong according to their respective style when they say to close up "healthcare" or "Website" or the majority of prefixed words.

Tony Pearson

Dan, what about
"data center" or "datacenter"?
This is the computer room with all the servers in it. I have seen it both ways on various Web sites.

Dan Santow

Matt , the rules here are all in accordance with AP Style. While other agencies may have their own house style that vary from AP, I think it’s a mistake on their part, to be honest. To what end do they choose to write healthcare instead of health care? Ditto Website instead of Web site? Call me a fuddy-duddy (my 83-year-old mother does), but I just don’t get it.

Tonty, data center is two words. I say this based on the fact that it’s not ion AP Style, nor on its Web site (it goes from data to database to data processing), and that I can’t find a dictionary that includes it other than the Infoplease Dictionary and dictionary.com

Cindy Dashnaw

So if you wrote, "The health care industry is in peril," you'd hyphenate heath care because the two words are modifying the word industry, correct?

Sheena T Abraham

What about decisionmaker and decisionmaking? Do these words follow the same rules as policymaker?

Thanks for clearing things up!


So. What about right of way? In my American Heritage dictionary, it listed right of way, also right-of-way, but did not specify when each is correct.

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Why "Word Wise"?

  • When I started to e-mail out a weekly writing tip to my Chicago colleagues at Edelman in 2002, little did I know how quickly how many people outside my office would start to request it. But word spread, as word is wont to do, and in 2006 the e-mail evolved into this blog. The tips, which are about grammar, usage and style, have a dual purpose – to remind my colleagues in PR of the power of the written word and, more generally, to support and perpetuate clear, concise, creative, honest, lively, stylish, compelling writing everywhere. In 2009 I started to add commentary about and links to stories and other blog posts related to the media, marketing, writing and, sometimes, just interesting stuff. For some reason, I also started Twittering (at SantowDan).