AP StyleGuard: Help or Hindrance?

06.03.2013 | Jeff Julum

As professionals continue to rely increasingly on computer technology to do their jobs – word processing tools and email are commonplace in almost every office – our reliance on memorizing rules and conventions has started to slip. Most workplace technologies are hugely helpful in creating a more efficient organization. However, some facets of word processing technology actually frustrated me when I was teaching college courses.

For example, I felt that some features of programs, like Microsoft Word’s “spell check” feature, robbed my students of any responsibility to learn spelling, grammar or proper writing style. Rather, similarly to how calculators make mathematical calculations possible without a complete understanding of how or why the calculation worked, “spell check” makes it possible to create a seemingly correct piece of writing without understanding the errors you might make along the way.

Given this background, I was intrigued but skeptical when I learned about AP StyleGuard, a program to help writers adhere to the Associated Press rules for writing.

If you have worked with journalists, you know newspapers and much of the news industry uses the Associated Press Stylebook guidelines and its collection of rules to “provide a uniform presentation of the printed word, to make a story written anywhere understandable everywhere.” If a PR firm or business wants to inject its message into the media, AP style format is essential. Whether writing a contributed article or a well thought out pitch, the ability to write in AP style is an integral part of a career in PR. To learn more about the importance of AP Style, please see Friday’s post, “AP Style: What it is and why it’s important”.

AP StyleGuard has been around about a year and a half, yet there are probably still some in the PR world unaware of its existence.  It provides automatic checking of a Word document for AP style. The program integrates with Microsoft Word, and operates on Windows XP and higher and on Microsoft Office 2007 and higher (with the exception of Office 2013).The program also operates on Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), 10.7 (Lion) or 10.8 (Mountain Lion) running Office for Mac 2011 and Safari 5.17 or above. No additional hardware or software is required.

I will admit that I had some misgivings about this product. As I previously mentioned, I have seen automated programs affect students’ learning, especially in writing and math. I still prefer the physical AP style manual precisely because it forces me into the repetitive mode of learning or, in too many cases, re-learning the rules. For me, this process is a eustress (positive stress) that forces my growth as a writer. I think many of us are continually looking for ways to improve our craft, and the repetition required by referencing a physical copy of the AP Style guidebook is a great way to grow your writing skillset.

Despite this concern, AP StyleGuard has potential as a useful product. First, it is possible to learn from this product. The software proposes correction in the document and shows you the corresponding AP Stylebook rule, so you can learn as you go. If the writer took full advantage of this feature, it would help improve his or her use of AP Style.

Second, there are times when a writer, no matter how much they want to improve their writing skills, simply faces a tight deadline. In such cases, the additional help offered by AP StyleGuard would be advantageous. Finally, one feature that actually trumps the physical AP Style Guidebook is the AP StyleGuard’s automatic updates. This monitors current AP Style requirements, even if a writer is not aware of most recent changes.

Overall, I think this product is, at the very least, worth consideration, especially if you are consistently writing in AP Style and have trouble staying up to date on rules and conventions. Yes, it costs $60 for a year’s subscription, but even if you don’t renew it, you can keep the program sans updates. If this post piqued your interest, you can check out AP StyleGuard here.

 


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