Common AP Style mistakes and how to fix them

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Categorized in: Writing
Published on: August 2, 2023

Professional writers know that consistency is key to success. It was to this end that the Associated Press Stylebook was created. The AP Stylebook, as it’s often called, is a widely used guide for journalists, editors and writers who want to ensure consistency and accuracy in their writing.

Here at Bellingham PR & Communications, we use the AP Stylebook in the work we do to help ensure consistency and professionalism for our clients. Consistency is particularly important in business writing, but let’s be honest – good writing is necessary across the board.

However, some of the AP Style rules are often ignored, misused or misunderstood, leading to mistakes and confusion. Here are some of the AP Style rules that are most often abused (and how to get them right):

Numbers: AP Style generally spells out numbers one through nine and uses figures for 10 and above. However, there are many exceptions to this rule, such as percentages, ages, dimensions, dates, temperatures and scores. For example, you should write “He is 5 years old” not “He is five years old.” In a series of numbers, follow the standard rules: “The Johnson, Kimball and Erdman families had three, five and 12 children, respectively.”

Capitalization: AP Style follows the general rule of capitalizing proper nouns and lowercasing common nouns. However, there are many cases in which capitalization depends on the context, such as titles, seasons, directions and regions. For example, you should capitalize “President Joe Biden” but lowercase “the president.” You should also capitalize “the South” when referring to the region but lowercase “southern” when using it as an adjective, such as in “southern cooking.”

Abbreviations and acronyms: AP Style generally avoids using abbreviations and acronyms unless they are widely recognized and clear to the reader. For example, “FBI” is OK in all uses (no need to explain what it means). Also, never place the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses after the term. For example, phrases such as “gross domestic product (GDP)” are forbidden. Just use the full term once and then shorten it to GDP later.

Punctuation: AP Style has some specific rules that differ from other styles, such as using a single space after a period at the end of a sentence, placing periods and commas inside quotation marks, and using the serial comma only when necessary to avoid confusion. For example, you should write “She said, ‘I love you.'” not “She said, ‘I love you’.”

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