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The Basics of Associated Press Style

An Important Part of Newswriting and Copyediting

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What Is Associated Press Style?

One of the first things a student in a beginning journalism course learns about is Associated Press style, or AP style for short. AP style is simply a standardized way of writing everything from dates to street addresses to job titles. AP style was developed and is maintained by The Associated Press, the world’s oldest news service.

Why Do I Have To Learn AP Style?

Learning AP style is certainly not the most exciting or glamorous aspect of a career in journalism, but getting a handle on it is absolutely necessary. Why? Because AP style is the gold standard for print journalism. It’s used by the vast majority of newspapers in the U.S. A reporter who never bothers to learn even the basics of AP style, who gets into the habit of submitting stories filled with AP style errors, is likely to find himself covering the sewage treatment board beat for a long, long time.

How Do I Learn AP Style?

To learn AP style you must get your hands on an AP Stylebook. It can be purchased at most bookstores or online. The stylebook is a comprehensive catalog of proper style usage and has literally thousands of entries. As such, it can be intimidating to the first-time user.

But the AP Stylebook is designed to be used by reporters and editors working on tight deadlines, so generally it’s pretty easy to use.

There’s no point in trying to memorize the AP Stylebook. The important thing is to get into the habit of using it whenever you write a news story to make sure your article follows proper AP style. The more you use the book, the more you’ll start to memorize certain points of AP style. Eventually you won’t have to refer to the stylebook nearly as much.

On the other hand, don’t get cocky and toss out your AP Stylebook once you’ve memorized the basics. Mastering AP style is a lifelong, or at least career-long, pursuit, and even expert copy editors with decades of experience find they must refer to it regularly. Indeed, walk into any newsroom, anywhere in the country and you’re likely to find an AP Stylebook on every desk. It’s the Bible of print journalism.

The AP Stylebook is also an excellent reference work. It includes in-depth sections on libel law, business writing, sports, crime and firearms – all topics that any good reporter should have a grasp of.

For instance, what’s the difference between a burglary and a robbery? There’s a big difference, and a novice police reporter who makes the mistake of thinking they are one and the same thing is likely to get hammered by a tough editor.

So before you write that the mugger burgled the little old lady’s purse, check your stylebook.

Here are some of the most basic and commonly used AP style points. But remember, these represent only a tiny fraction of what’s in the AP Stylebook, so don’t use this page as a substitute for getting your own stylebook.

Numbers

One through nine are generally spelled out, while 10 and above are generally written as numerals.

Example: He carried five books for 12 blocks.

Percentages

Percentages are always expressed as numerals, followed by the word “percent.”

Example: The price of gas rose 5 percent.

Ages

Ages are always expressed as numerals.

Example: He is 5 years old.

Dollar Amounts

Dollar amounts are always expressed as numerals, and the “$” sign is used.

Example: $5, $15, $150, $150,000, $15 million, $15 billion, $15.5 billion

Street Addresses

Numerals are used for numbered addresses. Street, Avenue and Boulevard are abbreviated when used with a numbered address, but otherwise are spelled out. Route and Road are never abbreviated.

Example: He lives at 123 Main St. His house is on Main Street. Her house in on 234 Elm Road.

Dates

Dates are expressed as numerals. The months August through February are abbreviated when used with numbered dates. March through July are never abbreviated. Months without dates are not abbreviated. “Th” is not used.

Example: The meeting is on Oct. 15. She was born on July 12. I love the weather in November.

Job Titles

Job titles are generally capitalized when they appear before a person’s name, but lowercase after the name.

Example: President George Bush. George Bush is the president.

Film, Book & Song Titles

Generally these are capitalized and placed in quotation marks. Do not use quote marks with reference books or the names of newspapers or magazines.

Example: He rented “Star Wars” on DVD. She read “War and Peace.”

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