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AP Style tips from a former reporter

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I remember my first encounter with the AP Stylebook: I was a young pup just starting my formal journalism education and our professor told us that over the course of the semester, our assignment would be to read the AP Stylebook cover to cover. On top of that, we would be tested weekly to make sure we were actually reading it.


I remember thinking to myself – is this guy for real? There’s NO WAY I would ever need to know this, nor did I care to memorize the seemingly inane, useless and senseless rules. I quickly came to realize, however, that I was dead wrong.

After graduation, I was hired as a cops and courts reporter where I quickly learned the importance of AP Style, sometimes referred to as the bible of the journalism community. Anyone AP-Stylebook-tips-for-pr-proswho wants to pursue a career that works with the media or journalists needs to know the AP Stylebook.

Whether you’re sending a reporter an email or distributing a press release to thousands of publications, you’re going to want to make sure you’re following the same style rules as journalists to position yourself as a credible source of information and make their jobs easier.

While I made the switch from reporter to public relations professional, I still use my AP Style knowledge daily and am ecstatic to share some of my favorite and most commonly used AP Style tips.

  1. ALWAYS look it up, even if you don’t think you need to.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask why, but know sometimes the answer is “just because.”
  3. Don’t trust spell check.
  4. There are always exceptions to the rules.
  5. Get the AP Stylebook online edition – it’s easier to use and features an “Ask the Editor” forum.



AP Style tips reporters want you to know:


  • Addresses: Use numerals and abbreviate Blvd., Ave., and St.
    Road, Court, Drive, etc. are all spelled out.
  • It’s Wal-Mart.
  • AP Style doesn’t use the Oxford comma – just embrace it.
  • Titles are only capitalized if they are listed immediately before a name, and job titles in job descriptions are not capitalized. Additionally, titles do not follow the name after first reference. For example one would write “Dr. John Smith said,” on first reference and “Smith said” on second reference.
  • Affect vs. effect: Effect is a noun and affect is a verb. Here’s a fun tip: R(emember)A(ffect)V(erb)E(ffect)N(oun)
  • Ellipses and dashes should be preceded by a space and followed by a space.
  • Numbers one through nine should be spelled out, with a few exceptions including ages, distances and percentages.
  • Percent is always spelled out (29 percent, not 29%)
  • Which is only used in a sentence when preceded by a comma, for example, I went to the fair yesterday, which was fun.
  • Farther is only used when talking about distance, otherwise use further.
  • More than and over can now be used interchangeably (I’m still dragging my feet on this one, though).
  • It’s French toast, but french fries.
  • There was a semi-recent change to internet, website, web and email.
  • Never write 9 a.m. in the morning – it’s redundant. Also, a.m. and p.m. are lowercase.
  • Whom should only be used when you can answer using the word him/her. For example, to whom did you give the package? I gave it to him.
  • It’s always adviser. Never advisor.
  • It’s toward and forward, not towards or forwards.
  • It’s OK, never okay or any other variation.
  • Champagne is only used when talking about the drink from Champagne, France. Otherwise it’s called sparkling wine.
  • Magazines and newspaper titles are capitalized and everything else has quotation marks around the title. Italics and underlining are never used.
  • Cancel, canceled and canceling always only use one “l” and cancellation uses two.
  • When using quotation marks, any punctuation is placed inside.
  • Months are abbreviated only when listed with a specific date, such as Thursday, Dec. 15, 2017. Otherwise it’s December 2017.
  • There is a list of domestic datelines that stand alone (major metro cities), otherwise the city is always written in all capital letters followed by the state’s abbreviation.
  • States names are spelled out completely when written in the body of a story. No state is necessary when it’s the same as the dateline.
  • Number is always when discussing rank, followed by the numeral – even with numbers less than 10. For example, No. 8.
  • There are a lot of rules about hyphens. Reference them frequently and look up specific words you’re not sure about such as halftime and all-time.
  • Lay is an action word and takes a direct object. Lie indicates a horizontal plane.

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