What Is AP Style, and Why Does It Matter?

Due to the history and influence of the Associated Press (AP), which was founded in 1846, and that the AP decided in 1909 to create a style guide, AP style became and still is the standard writing style for journalism, public relations and marketing communications. 

Did you notice no serial comma, also called an Oxford comma and a Harvard comma, after “public relations” in the preceding sentence? That’s one rule of AP style: no serial comma. I prefer the serial comma, because I like to separate items in a list to avoid any perception that the last two items are linked, but I use it for only one client, which requires it. That one client requiring the serial comma illustrates that not all news, PR and marketing organizations and writers follow every aspect of AP style, but it generally still reigns supreme.

The AP Stylebook is the guide to writing in AP style. The online AP Stylebook costs only $22 per year. The AP Stylebook was first published in 1953; before that it was an internal AP document. There are excellent histories of the AP Stylebook and the Associated Press on Wikipedia.

As I write and edit copious copy, below are some of the recurring rules I encounter in AP style. Consider this list your AP style cheat sheet:

  • Headlines: In AP style, only the first word and proper nouns (unique people, places or things) in a headline and subhead are capitalized. Many organizations, including Bospar, instead use title case in which all words are capitalized except prepositions and conjunctions below four letters and articles.  
  • Job titles are capitalized if they directly precede a name with no comma: Marketing Director Susan Smith. They are lowercase following a name: Susan Smith, marketing director. 
  • The ampersand (&) should be used only in company names, like Procter & Gamble; it’s not a replacement for “and.”
  • Dashes: AP style specifies the longer em dash ( — ) with spaces on both sides rather than the shorter en dash ( – ). 
  • Numbers: Write out numbers below 10 and use numerals for numbers above nine. Write out numbers at the beginning of sentences with hyphens, like “Fifty-two people…” 
  • Use “%” rather than “percent” except when beginning a sentence, such as “Fifty-two percent…” Use numerals for all numbers preceding “%” with no space, such as “5%”. 
  • Abbreviations for “ante meridiem” and “post meridiem” are “a.m.” and “p.m.” with a space after the time and no zeros to indicate top of the hour, such as “11 a.m.”
  • “United States” is abbreviated “US” in headlines and subheads and “U.S.” elsewhere.

If you made it here to the end of this blog post, you have a strong interest in AP style, and editors will love you. The journalists and clients who use AP style also will appreciate the attention to AP style in your content. 

The journalists with whom we work tell us that adhering to AP style enhances our ability to secure coverage for our clients. What could be more important?

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About the author

Todd Lane is an award-winning content creator who has produced virtually every type of content for public relations, marketing communications and social media. He also has extensive experience in account management and media and analyst relations. Todd’s industry experience includes enterprise IT, embedded systems, computer-aided design and manufacturing, semiconductors, health tech, clean tech, consumer tech, artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, gaming, and insurance.

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