AP - the Associated Press - updated their style guide to include coronavirus guidelines. Here’s what we can take from their updates to apply to our own writing. 

Why refer to AP for writing pandemic-related content? 

Simply put, AP is familiar to most readers. To ensure consistency in the press, many news outlets and independent journalists adhere to AP style. It is the most widely adopted. 

Your brand may have its own style guide. However, when it comes to a global pandemic, it’s better to keep best practices in mind. Your style guide should reflect your brand identity and values. With that being said, several of the guidelines around coronavirus coverage come from factual points. You should follow them to show everyone you’re informed. 

What is in the AP coronavirus update? 

Although the 55th edition of the AP style guide isn’t available for free. But they have released the Coronavirus Topical Guide online. 

Dos and don’ts 

The list published on the AP site is exhaustive. We’re summarising some of the most widely applicable into actionable dos and don’ts. 


  • Refer simply to the coronavirus if it’s in the context of the current pandemic. It is part of a family of coronaviruses, but it’s okay to use ‘the’ if the context is obvious
  • Use the term COVID-19 when referring specifically to the disease. COVID-19 treatments, COVID-19 patients, COVID-19 deaths, recovering from COVID-19
  • Use COVID-19 to refer to the disease, not the virus. The disease is caused by the virus
  • Use the term coronavirus in the following common phrases:
    • coronavirus spreads through the air
    • she worries about catching coronavirus 
  • Shorten to COVID if you need to save space in a headline
  • Know the difference between antiseptic and disinfectant. The former refers to living surfaces, the latter inanimate 
  • Use the word ‘people’ rather than ‘cases’ 
  • Use neutral descriptions when referring to people with any disease. E.g. she had COVID-19
  • Use the abbreviation Dr. as a first-reference before the following degrees: 
    • doctor of dental surgery
    • doctor of medicine
    • doctor of optometry
    • doctor of osteopathic medicine
    • doctor of podiatric medicine
    • doctor of veterinary medicine
  • Hyphenate ‘hand-washing’
  • Use ‘lock down’ for the verb, ‘lockdown’ for the noun/adjective
  • Use the shorthand ‘PPE’, but only on the second reference to Personal Protective Equipment 


  • Use the term ‘asymptomatic’ - it’s too much like medical jargon. Instead, say ‘no symptoms’, ‘without symptoms’, or similar phrases
  • Use inverted commas around contact tracing 
  • Use the term ‘stimulus’ to refer to coronavirus relief packages. It’s misleading about the purpose of the measures 
  • Use death euphemisms, such as ‘passed on’
  • Use non-neutral terms for having any disease, such as ‘battling’
  • Use the term ‘pathogen’
  • Start a sentence with a percentage. If you have to, spell out the number and the ‘percent’ 

To see the full list of guidelines and any updates, visit AP’s Topical Guide.

Laura Kelly

Laura is a freelance writer and worked at Readable for a number of years. Laura is well-versed in optimising content for readability and Readable's suite of tools. She aims to write guides that help you make the most out of Readable.