What is AP Style?

As a young journalism student, I was introduced to The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (usually called the AP Stylebook bible) for the first time. The AP Stylebook is the English grammar style and usage guide created by American journalists working for or connected with the Associated Press over the last century to standard mass communications. Over the years, it has become the leading reference for most forms of public-facing corporate communications. It offers a basic reference to grammar, punctuation and principles of reporting, including many definitions and rules for usage as well as style for capitalization, abbreviation, spelling and numerals.

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For most of my 26 years in corporate communications, publishing, public relations and marketing, I have used the rules that The AP Stylebook lays out. Although other style books exist, like The Chicago Manual of Style, I have found that AP Style is the easiest to follow and makes my red pen happy. Many of our clients may wonder why I edit things in a particular manner, so explaining a few of the basic rules may help.

One of the most common questions I get is why I delete the last comma in a series (it typically comes before "and"). Of course, if you are in English class, that last comma is necessary, but since I follow AP Style, I do not include it. In addition, all punctuation should be inside a quotation mark, not outside.

Another common mistake I see is the use of the word "over" to describe a quantity of something. "There were over a thousand people there." Over is a word that describes something spatial, not numbers. A better choice is "more than," which should always be used when referring to numbers. For example, "There were more than a thousand people in attendance at the concert."

Here are a few more style guidelines that differ from what you may have learned in English class:

State Abbreviations: These are tricky because you don't abbreviate all states. Some states are abbreviated with two letters, three letters, four letters or initials. For example, Alabama is abbreviate "Ala." while Kentucky is abbreviated "Ky." Abbreviations do not follow post office rules, so be aware of that.

Titles: Capitalize formal titles when they precede an individual's name. It would be correct to say: "Mayor Bob Miller attended the press conference." It would be incorrect to say "Bob Miller, mayor of Newport, attended the press conference."

Numbers: Write out the numbers one through nine and use numerals for numbers 10 and higher.

Percent: Write out the word percent instead of using the "%" sign. I have made exceptions to this rule when I am dealing with large financial statements as it just doesn't make sense to spell it out in that instance.

Toward: This word does not end with an "s." Neither does forward, backward, upward, etc.

That vs. Which: Use "that" and "which" when referring to inanimate objects or animals without names. Use "that" for essential clauses that are important to the meaning of the sentence. "I remember the day that I met my future husband." Use "which" for nonessential clauses where the pronoun is less necessary. "The team, which won the championship last year, begins their 2017 season next month."

Farther vs. Further: Use "farther" when referring to a physical distance. Use "further" when referring to an extension of time or degree. "I walked farther today than I did yesterday." or "I promise to look further into this problem."

Obviously there are many more examples I could share with you, but these are some of the most important ones that I see on a daily basis. Our goal at VSM is to create clean, compelling, insightful copy that adheres to all the rules.


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