AP Style Matters

By Julianna Sheridan

Like most PR pros, day in and day out I can be found referencing the “The Associated Press Stylebook.” It’s my bible to grammar geekdom. (Note that quotation marks – not italics – are used around a book’s title and that “bible,” in this use, is lowercase because it’s a non-religious reference. See what I mean about my nerdery?)

There are reasons for the sometimes-quirky rules of AP Style. Simply put, these guidelines make journalists’ and editors’ lives easier when we use it.

Traditional media outlets follow AP Style to create consistency across the publication. If you don’t write in AP Style, they have to edit your work so that it does — and heavy editing doesn’t bode well for the publication of your release or article. I definitely “overlooked” a few poorly written submissions in my journalism days and, in a time when many journalists wear many hats, it’s just nice to be nice.

As journalism and PR continue to evolve and expand into more channels with fewer characters, the disregard for the Stylebook grows. While AP Style is constantly evolving (make sure to follow the official Twitter for real-time changes!), there are few updates and frequent mistakes that are notable for PR pros. Here are some to watch out for:

  1. Capitalizing job titles: Company presidents are, no doubt, important people. However, the word “president” does not need to be capitalized every time it’s used. Titles – all titles – are only capitalized if they come directly before a person’s name. If a comma comes between the title and the name, or the title comes after the name, the title is not capitalized.
  2. Get your datelines right: You’re used to two-letter abbreviations for letter writing, but with AP Style, states are a different beast (e.g., Florida is Fla., Arizona is Ariz., and Washington is Wash.). Also, you don’t need the state abbreviations in datelines when you’re writing out of larger cities. No state mentions needed for Boston, New York, Las Vegas, etc.
  3. The numbers game: Spell out numbers below 10. For 10 and above, use figures. Also, avoid starting a sentence with a number. If you must use it at the start of a sentence, spell it out. Calendar years are an exception to this rule.
  4. Percentages: This is another heated debate in the world of AP. In 2019, the rule changed from spelling out “percentage” to using the % symbol. Say goodbye to clunky sentences with percentages!
  5. Gender-Neutral: In a welcomed move, the Stylebook began encouraging the use of more gender-neutral terms and pronouns. Ditch heroine for hero, fireman for firefighter and so on. Mankind is also out the window with humankind stepping up. While these switches may seem small, they are a move toward more inclusive journalism.

Like our culture, our language is in a constant state of change. As words adapt, transform or leave our lexicon altogether, expect the folks at the AP to continue making alterations to its guidelines. If your brand needs help navigating the shifting tides of the AP Stylebook, the grammar geeks at Matter are always ready to lend you a vowel. Reach out below and we’ll be in touch!