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Back to School: Common AP Style Errors


Didn’t study? Here’s a cheat sheet for AP Style quirks you may need a refresher on.

The first day of school following a long summer vacation is never easy. I remember walking into class with teachers expecting the entire room to recall formulas, theories and other concepts that hadn’t crossed our minds in months. Thankfully, the first few days of class usually included refreshers, allowing us to get back up to speed before diving into new material.

As PR practitioners, we don’t always have the luxury of refreshers, but still need to stay on top of our writing skills and best practices to maintain uniformity in client work and deliverables. At Largemouth, we follow AP Style guidelines, the same formatting used by journalists. This assists in keeping messaging clear and formatting consistent in our media materials, ensuring there is no communication lapse with reporters when sharing press releases, contributed articles and other deliverables. The same attention to detail is necessary for whitepapers, case studies, website copy and other marketing assets, as inconsistencies can be enough for audiences to get distracted or misinterpret the intended message.

However, with so many rules to remember, basic quirks can be enough to trip up even the most seasoned wordsmiths. Here’s a cheat sheet for some of the most common AP Style errors.

STATE NAMES AND DATELINES

States_Greyson

Rules to remember:

  • The names of the 50 U.S. states should be spelled out when used in the body of a story, whether standing alone or in conjunction with a city, town, village or military base.
  • Use abbreviations in conjunction with the name of a city, town, village or military base in most datelines. Check your AP Stylebook for the major cities in which no state name is needed.
  • The following state names are never abbreviated in datelines or text: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah.
  • No state name is necessary in the text if it is the same as the dateline.

MONTHS AND SEASONS

Months_Greyson

Rules to remember:

  • When a month is used with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. Spell out when using alone or with a year alone.
  • When a phrase lists only a month and a year, do not separate the year with commas. When a phrase refers to a month, day and year, set off the year with commas.
  • Lowercase spring, summer, fall, winter and derivatives such as springtime, unless part of a formal name.

ADDRESSES

Address_Greyson

Rules to remember:

  • Use the abbreviations Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
  • Spell them out and capitalize when part of a formal street name without a number: Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • Lowercase and spell out when used alone or with more than one street name: Massachusetts and Pennsylvania avenues.
  • All similar words – alley, drive, road, terrace, etc. –  always are spelled out.

NUMBERS AND FIGURES

Numbers_Greyson

Rules to remember:

  • In general, spell out one through nine. Use figures for 10 or above and whenever preceding a unit of measure or referring to ages of people, animals, events or things. 
  • Use figures for ages: a 6-year-old girl; an 8-year-old law; the 7-year-old house.
  • Use figures for percent and percentages: 1 percent5 percent10 percent, 4 percentage points.
  • Use figures and the sign in all except casual references or amounts without a figure: The book cost $4. Dad, please give me a dollar. Dollars are flowing overseas.

OXFORD/SERIAL COMMAS

Comma_Greyson

Rules to remember:

  • Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.
  • Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series, however, if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.
  • Use a comma also before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases: The main points to consider are whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude.

Since the first edition was published in 1953, the AP Stylebook has evolved greatly, adapting to the changing times and editorial norms that writers abide by. To some, the rules are a burden. To formatting fanatics, like myself, it’s a necessary tool to ensure the messages I’m crafting reach their full potential.

If you don’t have a hard copy of the Stylebook, you can purchase one online or sign up for a digital subscription at apstylebook.com. If you’re looking to sharpen your messaging for media outreach and find your voice, give us a shout.

EXTRA CREDIT

  • Dashes – Use dashes to denote an abrupt change in thought in a sentence or an emphatic pause. Use dashes instead of parentheses in these instances.

  • Spacing – Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.

  • Ellipsis – Use an ellipsis to indicate the deletion of one or more words in condensing quotes, texts and documents. Ellipsis should always be three periods.

Greyson Feurer

Posted By Greyson Feurer

Those who know Greyson well can tell you that his favorite movie is “The Shawshank Redemption,” he prefers dogs to cats and he has an unhealthy addiction to Zaxby’s. However, his two greatest passions are unquestionably sports and music. In his free time, you will most likely find Greyson on a nearby soccer field, cheering on NC State or learning a new song on guitar.