Figuring Out AP Style

08.11.2017 | Kylee Brown

If you work in PR, there is a 99-percent chance you have written in AP Style, considering it is the leading writing and usage style guide for both reporters and public-facing corporate communication. When I first started interning at Communique, I had never even heard about AP Style and I certainly didn’t know any of the rules. After my first few writing assignment came back covered in red ink, I decided it was time to learn. If you are new to AP Style, here are some tips and tricks to get you up to speed.

Your journey to AP Style mastery starts where all great journeys start – Google. You may be wondering why I’m not telling you to start with the actual AP Stylebook, The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2017, since it is the best resource out there. That is a great question and the stylebook is definitely the best resource, but it is also 611 pages and the first 312 read like a dictionary. To save time, and your sanity, it is much easier to find a few beginner guides that will keep you from making any major faux pas, like not spelling out percent or using the wrong state abbreviation. Below are a few resources you can use to get started:

Then you can use the style guide to look up more nitpicky rules, like understanding the distinction between a mistress and a companion, or if cyberattack is the correct term to use for stolen data. Curious if there is a hyphen in your word? It is probably in the style guide. Wondering if you can abbreviate the International Monetary Fund? There’s an entry for it. Whatever your question, the stylebook probably has an answer.

Another great way to pick up AP Style is by reading articles written in newspapers and magazines that use it. The more you read, the more comfortable you will become with the syntax and the easier it will be for you to emulate. You’ll start to notice how dates are written and which numbers are spelled out, or you’ll at least recognize that there is a rule around a topic that you need to look up.

Reading articles is also a great way to pick up on rules that aren’t explicitly in the stylebook, particularly if they are related to a niche industry or if it’s a new word. A new stylebook comes out every year with a section specifically for new content. For example, this year it is livestreaming, one word, and VR is an acceptable alternative for virtual reality, but AR is not acceptable for augmented reality. If you haven’t seen the updates for the 2017 guide, check out this article – AP Stylebook Updates: Singular ‘They’ Now Acceptable’.

When you do have time, reading through the style guide is a good idea, especially if you are going to be using AP style often. Even if you don’t remember every rule, and you definitely won’t, it will give you a better understanding of which words, phrases and other English quirks have rules, making them easier to reference in the future. The stylebook also has dedicated sections that explain the guidelines for a certain industry or topic: broadcast, business, data journalism, fashion, food, religion and sports. These sections are great to read over if you spend a lot of time focusing on one of those topics or specifically work in broadcast or data journalism.

There are also sections dedicated to explaining punctuation and social media rules. The basic guidelines for punctuation? Use common sense. If the punctuation doesn’t help make your point clearer then it doesn’t need to be there. However, if you struggle with colons and commas like I do, reading through that section is a big help.

Even after my enthusiastic commitment to learning everything AP, my work still comes back with some suggestions, and that is important to remember. No matter how good you are, you should always have someone else do a quick edit. You could read through your work 100 times and still miss something that will make you smack your forehead when it’s pointed out. Learning AP Style isn’t hard, it just takes some getting used to.


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Filed under: COMMUNIQUÉ PR, PR trends

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