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What Is AP Style?

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

For writers like me, grammar rules make the world go round—or, at the very least, keep us sane.


AP Style (short for "Associated Press Style") is one such set of rules that is accepted by most newsrooms, magazines, and PR offices across the country. This is how I first became exposed to it. As a journalist-in-training, I was told to purchase a hard copy of the AP Stylebook and memorize as many grammar rules as I could.


Of course, every year, my classmates and I had to relearn some rules; AP Style guidelines are regularly changing to keep up with the times. For example, in 2011, AP Style replaced "e-mail" with "email" as a hat-tip to the the internet and its integration into our daily lives.


At its core, AP Style is what helps to keep spelling, formatting, and punctuation consistent. It's the style that I, as an editor, know best. While there are far too many rules for me to recall, here are several guidelines that'll come in handy on a regular basis.


Title Capitalization

Capitalize all verbs (including short verbs like "is"), adjectives, adverbs, nouns, pronouns, and words that are longer than three letters in a title. Also capitalize principal words, aka, the first and last words of the title. Do not capitalize articles, prepositions, or conjunctions that are less than four letters.


Correct:

  • How Happiness Is Achieved

  • Setting the Mood at Your Business Meeting


Job Titles

You might be surprised to learn that the only time you'll ever capitalize a title is if it's formal and immediately appear before a person's name. Otherwise, you'd keep it lowercase. Also, if a title is long, you'll offset it with commas before a person's name.


Correct:

  • Marketing Manager Allison Lee

  • Allison Lee, marketing manager at MyCompany

  • A marketing professional at MyCompany, Allison Lee

Names (for Quotation Purposes)

When you first mention someone for the first time, use his/her first and last name. On second mention, use the last name only.


Correct:

  • "Dogs are better than cats," says Marketing Manager Allison Lee.

  • "Dogs are more playful," adds Lee.


Numbers

If a number is below 10, spell it out in body copy. The same goes for ordinal numbers like ninth and 10th. When you're dealing with a large number in the millions, billions, etc., use a combination of numerals and words.


In titles or subheadings, however, use numbers for easy readability.


Correct:

  • $10 million

  • Six puppies

  • 5 Ways to Make Your Mom Smile This Mother's Day


Percentages

As of 2019, the AP Stylebook OK-ed the use of "%" when paired with a numeral. "Percent" should still be spelled out when mentioned casually. Numbers less than 1% should also be preceded by a zero.


Correct:

  • Only 10% of my surveyed friends prefer winter over summer

  • There is a zero percent chance that I'll be at that concert

  • The population grew by 0.6% last year


Quotation Marks

This rule tends to cause a lot of ruckus: periods and commas always go within quotation marks. Other punctation (semicolon, exclamation point, question mark, etc.) only go within quotation marks when they apply to the quoted line—not the sentence as a whole. Use single quotation marks when putting a quote inside a quote.


Correct:

  • She said, "Never say that again."

  • Said said, "The guy said to me, 'Good luck!' when I left."

 

Need help editing your content? You know who to call. Shoot me a message at allisonleecreative@gmail.com.


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