AP Style

AP Stylebook terms for covering violence

When covering violent or emotionally heightened situations, accuracy in reporting is absolutely essential to both respect the situation you are writing about and to remain a credible news source.

We compiled a list of AP Stylebook terms and rules to keep in mind when you are faced with unfortunate events.

homicide, murder, manslaughter

  • “Homicide” is the legal term for slaying or killing.
  • “Murder” is malicious, premeditated homicide. Some states define certain homicides as murder if the killing occurs in the course of armed robbery, rape, etc.
  • Generally speaking, “manslaughter” is homicide without malice or premeditation.
  • A “homicide” should not be described as murder unless a person has been convicted of that charge.
  • Do not say that a victim was “murdered” until someone has been convicted in court. Instead, say that a victim was “killed” or “slain.” Do not write that X was charged with “murdering” Y. Use the formal charge – “murder” – and, if not already in the story, specify the nature of the killing – shooting, stabbing, beating, poisoning, drowning, etc.: “Doe was charged with murder in the shooting of his girlfriend.”

assassin, killer, murderer

  • An “assassin” is someone who kills a politically important or prominent person.
  • A “killer” is anyone who kills with a motive of any kind.
  • A “murderer” is one who is convicted of murder in a court of law.

allege The word should be used with great care.
Keep in mind:

  • Avoid any suggestion that the writer is making an allegation.
  • Always specify the source of an allegation.
  • Avoid, where possible, “alleged victim.” It is too easily construed as skepticism of a victim’s account.
  • Do not use “alleged” to describe an event that is known to have occurred, when the dispute is over who participated in it. Do not say: “He attended the alleged meeting” when what you mean is: “He allegedly attended the meeting.”
  • Do not use “alleged” as a routine qualifier. Instead, use a word like “apparent,” “ostensible” or “reputed.”

accused A person is “accused of,” not “with,” a crime.

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