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Avoid These Common AP Style Mistakes Make by PR Pros

Tried and true, AP Style was created by reporters for use in editorial content from essays to articles to press releases and more. Stylistically, it has standardized the way that we communicate news and has streamlined the editing process for decades. Even after all these years, the truth remains that proper grammar and compliance to formal writing standards can positively influence the credibility of a pitch, release or announcement, and thus increase the chances of favorable coverage.

Keeping up with the annual changes can be overwhelming, and this style of formatting is certainly not what we learned in grammar school! To help, here’s a list of AP Style hacks to use in your next press release or statement.

  1. Percentages: Kicking off with the most recently updated standard, for years the Stylebooks have told us to spell out percentages. However, in 2019, grammar lovers everywhere were shocked when the Stylebook was published to allow the use of the “%” symbol in one of the most significant changes to the guidance in recent history. However, old habits are tough to shake, and many reporters at top publications, particularly print, have yet to make the switch, which means PR Pros are left to make a preference call. Just remember to always write out the number and “percent” when starting a sentence with a statistic.
  2. Dates & Times: For times, a lowercase “a.m.” and “p.m.” after the numeric is the standard, using EST, PST etc. to indicate the time zone. Generous to your character count, the top of the hour does not require a minute indicator of :00. Dates, however, are much more complex. All months spelled in under five letters get written out in full, while longer months like Nov. and Dec. are abbreviated. A consistent rule to remember is to indicate the date as a standalone number, emitting the “th” or “st” you may be accustomed to.
  3. Titles: While it’s natural for us to want to capitalize titles to demonstrate influence and status, it’s not always appropriate or necessary. The rule is – if you proceed the name with a title, capitalize it, but if it comes after their name or is separated by a comma, lowercase is the way to go. If you think there will be push back, play it safe and lead with a capitalized title when identifying them in press materials.
  4. Commas: Commas can be an easy way to condense sentences and quickly address logistics related to announcements, but they are also the biggest indicator of a writer’s AP proficiency. The reality is, there is no need for a comma when ending a simple series. Omit that Oxford comma unless it’s to break up complex phrases.
  5. Numbers: When quantifying people, places and things, we instinctually think to relay that data numerically. However, not all numbers are treated the same in AP style. An easy rule of thumb is that if the number is under 10 or over 999,999, write it out. However, if you’re starting a sentence with a number, just as with percentages, it should be written out.
  6. Cities: Saving arguably the most complex rules for last, there are many co-existing standards associated with cities and destinations. The best way to decide how to indicate location in your dateline and the body of your copy is to first consider whether the city is well-known enough to standalone. Cities like Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta require no further explanation, but outside cities like Westchester, N.Y. need a bit more context. Most importantly, not all states follow the same laws of abbreviation, and it’s best to reference an AP guide when shortening.

While some of these rules can seem tedious or insignificant, following AP Style means helping journalists minimize the edits they have to make to quotes or important details before publishing and can make a major difference in how your message is received and understood. In the words of author Lynn Truss, it’s the difference between “the panda eats, shoots and leaves,” and “the panda eats shoots and leaves.”

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