Word Nerd Alert: The Venerable AP Stylebook Gets Updated
Author: Tricia Heinrich
April 17, 2019
For those who may not be aware, the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook is the bible for news writers. The AP is arguably the world’s foremost news service, and when it comes to writing news copy for consumption across any medium – print, broadcast or online – AP style is the worldwide default.
This is why it is big news for public relations practitioners when AP updates its venerable stylebook. As content creators for our clients, we always make sure that our final copy is consistent with AP style in order to give journalists the information they need in an easily-digested form. AP style is clear and succinct and gives all of us in the communications field a common framework for getting our point across. And while it may seem like “word nerd” stuff, working with journalists in this way is a hallmark of professionalism for PR pros around the world. Quite simply, every person writing copy for media consumption should use the AP Stylebook for reference.
While the fully revised 2019 version of the AP Stylebook comes out on June 11, and I’ve already pre-ordered my own copy, I thought it would be informative to highlight some of the more notable changes that will immediately impact copywriting for PR people. These changes are quoted straight from the AP and include:
- Percent, percentage and percentage points – This is a major tweak, and AP’s guidance is to use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space in most cases. In casual use, such as the phrase “zero percent of winning,” percent is still spelled out.
- Data – Use the “singular form when writing for general audiences and in data journalism contexts.” Example: “The data is sound.” AP suggests plural verbs and pronouns are preferred in scientific and academic publications.
- Hyphens – AP views the use of hyphens (-) as “far from standardized” and a “matter of taste, judgment and style sense.” Hyphens are to be used as “joiners to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words.” AP says “fewer is better” and to “think of hyphens as an aid to readers’ comprehension.” In addition, “if a hyphen makes the meaning clearer, use it. If it just adds clutter and distraction to the sentence, don’t use it.” The revised stylebook also provides specific guidance on the use of hyphens when it comes to compound modifiers, compound verbs, nouns, and suspensive hyphenation used to describe more than one element in a series, such as “10-, 15- or 20-minute intervals.”
- Prefixes: Pre- and re- are revised, and AP’s guidance is to “not hyphenate double-e combinations with pre- and re-, in recognition of common usage and dictionary preferences.” Examples provided include preeclampsia, preelection, preeminent, preempt, preestablished, and preexisting and reelect, reemerge, reemphasize, reemploy, reenact, reengage, reenlist, reenter, reequip, reestablish, and reexamine.”
The new AP Stylebook also offers guidance on usage of composition titles for creative works, the use of accent marks, and common news-reporting words like “suspect” and “casualties,” as well as more contemporary terms that are in common usage, such as “Medicare for All” and even “medical marijuana.” The Columbia Journalism Review and The New Yorker offer more serious and tongue-in-cheek reviews of the changes, respectively, and journalists and editors will surely dive deeper into the proper use of “cocktail” and “Doctor versus Dr.” as these changes become more widely used over time.
But for now, our mission as PR writers is to integrate these changes quickly and syndicate them with our clients and professional peers. Integrating AP style is easy and should be a best practice for all of us. By presenting press releases and other content that is in sync with current journalistic style and usage, we signal to our reporting and editing colleagues that we take their work and responsibilities seriously. From the perspective of a reporter or editor, their ability and willingness to evaluate our clients for coverage is certainly impacted by the professionalism of the materials presented – which is to say that if a press release contains style and formatting errors, the facts contained therein might also be suspect. That’s why paying attention to AP style matters so much and why good writing remains a foundational element of credibility in terms of the relationship between PR people and journalists.