What is AP Style Writing and Why is it Important in Communications?

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From businesses to public safety organizations to government agencies, effective communications are critical to the success of any enterprise.

Whether informing audiences, shaping public opinion, disseminating policies and programs, mobilizing the masses, entertaining people, or generating recognition around a company or product, communications professionals should leverage every tool in their tool belt to tell their stories as best as possible. Yet one often overlooked and underutilized tool is the AP Stylebook, aka “The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.”

Now, unless you’re a journalist or a public relations pro, it’s unlikely you know what “AP style” is, much less why you should care about AP style writing. After all, you’re not in school anymore, so no one is grading what you write. While your writing is not being graded, it is being judged by your audience, so if you don’t know AP’s standardized punctuation and grammar conventions or how to properly use abbreviations, titles and formal names, it’s time to brush up on AP style.

What is AP Style Writing?

“AP style” provides consistent guidelines for news writing. While some publications, including the New York Times, have created their own style guides, most newspapers, magazines, online outlets and PR offices across the U.S. write content adhering to AP style. Consequently, basic knowledge of AP style writing is vital to anyone working in print journalism, PR, marketing or mass communications.

Aiming to promote uniformity for easy reading and a standard reference for measuring all news writing, AP style dictates consistent rules as far as grammar, spelling, punctuation and language usage are concerned. Built on consistency, clarity, accuracy and brevity, AP style was initially developed for print media in which space was limited and correcting errors was a costly endeavor, but outlets continue to use AP style because it is continuously upgraded to keep up with trends and ensure the copy is uniform and free of bias.

Why Should Communications Professionals Use AP Style?

In the PR and marketing space, the most significant reason we utilize AP style is to provide journalists information in a familiar style that is valuable to them. Across the country, newsrooms are shrinking, and reporters have less time than ever to rework the content you’ve created into AP style. AP style writing ensures you’re helping make the job of journalists and their editors easier and more streamlined.

Since reporters and editors can gather information about your company, product or service from just about anywhere — from your website to press releases, social media posts, contributed articles, and even email newsletters and other communications — leveraging AP style increases your chances of attracting attention and allows journalists and editors to select your information for positive news coverage.

Let’s face it: When you’re trying to secure coverage, journalists are your audience, so you should follow the same rules they do when writing.

Additionally, AP style writing guarantees consistency and continuity across all of the written content your organization creates. Even small mistakes can negatively impact your credibility and harm your ability to be seen as a trustworthy resource in your industry.

AP Style Writing Tips

At Compriseagency, we use AP style across all of the content we develop internally and to help tell our clients’ stories. Consequently, we recognize how intimidating it can be to master the industry’s “bible.” If you don’t have an AP Stylebook at your desk or a subscription to the online version, here are a few general tips for using AP Style:

  • Addresses: Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address (e.g., 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.). Spell them out and capitalize when part of a formal street name without a number (e.g., Pennsylvania Avenue). Spell out and capitalize First through Ninth when used as street names, but use figures for 10th and above.
  • Commas: In AP style, clarity is the biggest rule. If a comma does not help make clear what is being said, it should not be there. If omitting a comma could lead to confusion or misinterpretation, then use the comma. AP style does not use the Oxford comma, so do not put a comma before the conjunction in most simple series (e.g., The American flag is red, white and blue.).
  • Dimensions: When it comes to height, weight or other dimensions, use figures and spell out words such as inches, feet, miles, yards, etc. (e.g., The storm left 5 inches of snow.)
  • Hyphens: While use of the hyphen is far from standardized, AP style uses them to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words (e.g., energy-efficient products, real-time data, black-and-white photography, a big-ass fire).
  • Numbers: In the AP Stylebook’s “numerals” section, the guidance is to generally spell out one through nine or numbers that start a sentence (unless it’s a year). Use figures for any numbers 10 and above or for all ages and percentages.
  • Titles: AP style confines capitalization to formal titles used directly before an individual’s name (e.g., President Joe Biden). When titles are not used with an individual’s name or in constructions that set them off from a name by commas, they should be lowercase (e.g., The president issued a statement; The Nuggets head coach, Michael Malone, was hired in 2015.).

Just remember that there can be exceptions to these rules, and the AP Stylebook is always reviewing and clarifying its guidance. If you’re ever unsure about a rule or need help creating content in AP style, let us know! We’re happy to help ensure your communications are told in a manner that the media and your target audiences will appreciate.

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