Ten Ways To Make Your Articles More Professional Using Associated Press Stylebook Rules
I’ll be honest. I’ve often scoffed at the saying, “anyone can write.” It’s not that the saying is wrong. If you’re literate, you can write. Writing well is a different story. Grammar is not all you need to know. Style, professional preference, and digital and visual formatting are equally important. Beginner writers and those writing without formal training need resources to give them the guidelines needed to appear professional. The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook is one of the best references any writer, new or experienced.
The AP Stylebook is not the end all reference. The company you write for may have their own guidelines, but the Associated Press is the most used guide for writing.
The book explains the difference between many confused terms, gives spellings and definitions and much more guidance. The stylebook has entire sections on genre specific terms, media law and social network guidelines.
Given its size and amount of information, writers should have one available to them. This book is not one you memorize, but the guidelines inside will improve your writing. Follow these basic guidelines and potential clients will view you as a professional writer.
Start with your article title
There are two things that will kill your title. First, is incorrect capitalization. Second, is the use of numerals in your article. A title is the first thing people see when viewing your article. Get this wrong and potential readers will not read past your title.
You should capitalize all the principle words in your title and prepositions and conjunctions with over four letters. Capitalize words like “a” and “the” if they are at the beginning or end of a title or are longer than four letters.
Numbers in a title appear lazy. Always write out numbers in a title.
Correct: How to Write Well Using These Three Guidelines.
Incorrect: How To Write Well Using These 3 Guidelines.
Remember, I said some companies have different rules. I write for The Coffee House Writers. They prefer capitalization of every word in a title. You must ask your client if they use AP guidelines or have their own. Anywhere there is no specified rule, use the AP guides.
Get your numbers right
The basic rule for numbers is to write one through nine and use a numeral for 10 or above. Once you hit the thousands write thousand and million.
Correct: Mr. Sanders bought two houses worth $1.2 million each.
Incorrect: Mr. Sanders bought 2 houses worth $1,200,000 each.
If a number is at the start of a sentence write the number out. Numerals are awkward in front of sentences.
Correct: Three people died in a crash on I-95 in Brunswick.
Incorrect: 3 people died in a crash on I-95 in Brunswick.
The other titles: academic, government, etc.
There are many kinds of titles: academic, government, military, etc. Always review the stylebook for different titles to ensure correct usage of titles. This is for both spelling, description and style.
I often see issues with personal titles. The AP states that if the title precedes a person’s name. capitalize it. If it follows the name, there is no capitalization.
Correct: Prince Charles is next in line to the British Throne.
Correct: John Kerry, the senator of Massachusetts, is lecturing at Harvard University tomorrow.
Understanding the difference between homonyms.
Homonyms are words that sound the same but have different definitions and spellings. The AP Stylebook includes definitions to help you chose the correct homonym. This is another reason I recommend writers have a copy of the AP Stylebook.
Correct: Atlanta is the capital of Georgia.
Incorrect: Atlanta is the capitol of Georgia.
Correct: Mr. Smith has $9 million in capital to start his business.
Incorrect: Mr. Smith has $9 million in capitol to start his business.
Capitol is the word for a building that houses the federal or state senate, congress and legislature. The AP says capitalize capitol when you reference “the Capitol” or “U.S. Capitol.”
Know which spelling to use.
Is it OK or Okay? If you‘re not sure check the AP Stylebook. There are words with different spellings depending on whether they’re a noun, verb or adjective. One rides in a car pool, but you carpool to work. These words can be tricky whether you’re a writer or an editor. A sound reference from a credible source helps you pick the correct spelling every time.
Correct: The Parks Manager said it is OK to swim in the local pond now.
Incorrect: The Parks Manager said it is okay to swim in the local pond now.
Master abbreviations and acronyms.
Avoid using an abundance of abbreviations and acronyms. Like jargon, abbreviations and acronyms are not familiar to everyone. Don’t use them in your titles unless it is the vernacular such as AARP.
Correct: Microsoft is releasing a new operating system in 2020.
Incorrect: MS is releasing a new operating system in 2020.
It is acceptable to spell out a name or word first and abbreviate or use the acronym in the rest of the article. Put the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses next to the first mention.
First Mention: Public Relations (PR) is the business of persuasion and
Second Mention: PR utilizes the social sciences to interpret human behavior.
Using abbreviations before the name, such as Mrs., Lt. Gov., and Dr., is acceptable. As are some academic and medical degrees. It’s best to reference abbreviations to ensure the correct usage.
Do not abbreviate states.
When you think of the global reach of online writing it makes sense to not abbreviate state names. It’s hard enough for Americans to differentiate between MO, MI, ME, MA, MT, MD, and MS. Spell out state names inside the article.
It is also wise to spell out the state name after a city if it is, not in the same area as the date line, or there is a city by the same name in another state.
Correct: People in Boston, Virginia are preparing for a hurricane.
Incorrect: People in Boston, VA are preparing for a hurricane.
How to use a hyphen.
The AP Stylebook has an entire section dedicated to punctuation. This is proof that punctuation is not as easy as you think.
Hyphens can confound writers. Why is a person red-haired and a redhead? Hyphens help us avoid vagueness and uncertainty. The reason someone is red-haired is that if you dropped red, a haired person causes reader confusion. If dropping one word causes confusion, hyphenate.
Correct: The man’s aspirations to be a rock star were short-lived.
Incorrect: The man’s aspirations to be a rock star were short lived.
Hyphens also help compound modifiers unify a single thought.
Correct: Gheorghe Muresan is a 7-foot-7 giant on the basketball court.
Incorrect: Gheorghe Muresan is a seven foot, seven inch giant on the basketball court.
Express time right.
Unless it’s noon or midnight use numbers for the time. Although it is acceptable to use o’clock to denote time it is best to use a.m. or p.m. so there is no confusion whether it is morning, afternoon, or night time.
Correct: The campaign fundraiser is at noon on Friday, June 28.
Incorrect: The campaign fundraiser is at 12:00 on Friday, June 28.
Correct: The polling station opens at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday.
Incorrect: The polling station opens at 8:00 on Tuesday.
Learn the Associated Press Stylebook’s ellipsis rules.
An ellipsis shows deleted words in a quote. It also notes an incomplete thought.
Correct: “Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. … Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.” Earl Nightingale
Note: The Associated Press says, if an ellipsis follows a complete sentence use a period before the ellipsis.
Learn to write with sensitivity
Although, writers are against censoring, let’s not mistake censorship for a lack of sensitivity. Never use N-word, or racial slurs at all. Racism is not the only thing you should avoid, sexism, homophobia, and a lack of sensitivity to those with a mental health diagnosis.
The only times using race as a descriptor is appropriate is in a historical announcement, for people being sought by the police, and when writing about a racially motivated event.
Acceptable: Barack Obama is the first African-American President of the United States.
Acceptable: The police are looking for John Smith, a white male for questioning regarding a recent robbery in Andover.
Acceptable: The Baltimore, Maryland African-American community came together remembering Freddie Gray, a victim of police violence.
If it is not crucial to the story, there is no reason to mention one’s race.
For people with a mental disability, do not refer to it as a mental illness. There is no need to spread negative stigma. Instead do your best to find the person’s specific diagnosis and use it in place of the description mentally ill or mental illness.
Also, it is not appropriate to use words that evoke pity towards people with a mental health diagnosis.
Never print allegations of violence being attributed to a person’s mental illness without proof. This could leave you open to liability.
Acceptable: Ryan, a 30-year-old man with schizophrenia, describes the mental health system in our state as frustrating to maneuver.
The Associated Press Stylebook is a great reference for creating professional quality articles. Whether you write journalism, for public relations, or otherwise this book helps you write at a professional level.
If you are a writer or aspire to be a writer get a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook. What I have written here doesn’t touch the plethora of information printed in this reference book. Keep it near you and use it often.
The more you use it, the more you’ll learn. The more you learn the better writer you will become.
Disclaimer: I am not a sponsored by or paid to write about the Associated Press Stylebook.