What Does ‘Second Reference’ Mean?

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“What does ‘second reference’ mean?” you may be wondering. Here’s a simple explanation for those who might not be familiar with the term.

When journalists write for major news publications, most of them adhere to the “Associated Press Stylebook,” which is a reference book published by the AP to help writers find common rules for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It’s a reference book with literally more than 600 pages of guidelines on how to spell words and phrase things properly.

The AP Stylebook has two primary rules for every name, title, or topic: it will tell you how to spell and refer to something on the “first reference” (the first time you mention it in your article), and the “second reference.” For an easy example, just think of George Washington, the first President of the United States. If we were writing an article about him, the AP Stylebook might tell us to use “U.S. President George Washington” on the first reference, and, simply, “Washington” every subsequent time we mention him in the article. Simple, right?

When I write, I tend to write about familiar topics. I’m no scientist, I don’t like research, and I’m not smart enough to come up with groundbreaking new ideas or theorems that nobody has thought of before. I write about everyday things we all understand. While I hope I’m able to write from a new perspective on a subject, I know that the topics I write about aren’t new. They’re familiar to you, the reader. So I don’t need to spell them out like I would with a first reference.

Hopefully, this makes sense, and I hope the things I write on this blog feel familiar. You’re always welcome to comment or contact me. And you don’t even need to call me “Mr. Stauffer.” On second reference, you can just call me “Ron.”¬†Oh, man, my journalism professor would be so proud.