I’ll admit it—I’m a word nerd. More specifically, I’m an AP style nerd. Ever since my first journalism class in college, I’ve been all about AP style. Now I work for a Nashville public relations firm, and I use my AP style knowledge on a daily basis.
As publicists, we’re constantly trying to get journalists to cover our clients in the best light possible. PR firms have to balance helping their clients and helping reporters. If we can make a reporter’s job easier, it can start a great symbiotic relationship. By providing reliable sources and newsworthy story ideas—all in their preferred format—reporters will want to work with us.
But first we have to catch reporters’ attention. I’ve found that one great way to get reporters on my side is to speak their language. Proper grammar is obviously a huge part of that, but so is AP style.
AP style rules are published annually—I bought my first AP stylebook in college, and I’ve used it almost daily over the last seven years. It has seen me through journalism classes, reporting internships and jobs at PR firms in Chicago and Nashville. At the same time, I’ve been thrown by some of the changes to AP style, like “Web site” to “website.”
I’ve always been a rule follower so I love having AP style to guide my writing. Have you ever wondered when to spell out a number and when to use the numeral? There’s a rule for that, and PR firms need to know it.
Some AP style rules are used more often than others. Here are some of my favorites:
- Numerals: Spell out numbers under 10. Use numerals for 10 and up unless the number is starting the sentence. For large numbers, use numerals and spell out the amount (i.e. 5.1 million).
- Percentages: Always use numerals and spell out percent instead of using a percentage sign (i.e. 50 percent).
- Addresses: For complete addresses with street numbers, abbreviate Ave., Blvd. and St. Spell out all other words, and use figures for the street number.
- Time: Always use figures and put periods in a.m. and p.m.
- Time, Date, Place: When describing an event, the details should always be mentioned in the order of time before date before place. We used “the dog poops” to remember this at my college newspaper, but there is probably a better way.
- Job titles: Capitalize titles before the name. If the title comes after the name, offset with commas and do not capitalize.
- State names: Spell out names when mentioned alone, but when combined with a city, abbreviate according to the stylebook. I keep a printed list of the abbreviations at my desk. They are unique to AP style, and possibly the most difficult part of AP style to memorize. Large cities like Chicago do not need a state.
Before you grumble about your PR firm changing your “%” to “percent,” think about their goal. Clients pay their public relations firm to be the media experts and to secure press coverage. Using AP style is just one way we accomplish that.
Photo credit: George Kelly