ap-style

How to get the most from your AP Stylebook

In Media Relations by Kathy Hoffman

According to the foreword of The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, the first AP Stylebook published in 1954 was 60 pages, bound together with staples.

Today’s manual is more than 500 pages, chock full of weather terms, food and sports guidelines, spelling and grammar rules, even a briefing on media law.

That can make it intimidating to use. But it doesn’t have to be. The 2015 edition, for the first time, included an extensive index that makes material far easier to find. Arranged alphabetically and divided into sections that include the main Stylebook as well as sections on punctuation, media law, social media, sports, food, fashion and business writing, the Stylebook is perfect for browsing or a quick lookup when you have to get out a press release fast.

Many journalists consider the AP Stylebook to be their newsroom bible, and keep a copy on their desk or, for those who prefer a digital version, on their computer’s desktop or smartphone (yes, there’s an app for that!).

Relevant to PR

So why should public relations practitioners make a habit of learning the Stylebook’s ins and outs? Because following it will make them better writers and, more importantly, help them craft media advisories, press releases, infographics and other materials that reporters find easy to use because they follow the same AP Style rules reporters follow.

Some examples:

  • Percent: The Stylebook says writers should spell out the word “percent,” not use the “%” symbol. Also, writers should use figures for percent and percentages (3 percent, 5 percentage points), not spell out numbers 1-9 as is the usual case with numbers in AP Style.
  • Adviser: Although both “advisor” and “adviser” are correct and listed in the dictionary, the Stylebook says “adviser” should be used.
  • Reign vs. Rein: Even reporters frequently get this wrong. According to the Stylebook, “reign” is the period a ruler is on the throne; “rein” is the leather strap for controlling a horse. That makes “rein” the spelling to use when saying someone has “taken the reins” or has been given “free rein” to run a company, etc.
  • Apostrophes: We all struggle with this from time to time. The Stylebook has two full pages on how to use this important grammatical tool.
A quick and handy guide

As the former head of Lansing’s Associated Press bureau for 17 years, I had lots of occasions to consult the Stylebook. But I find myself using it just as often as a PR practitioner.

The AP Stylebook isn’t the only guide to good writing out there. But if you want to give your press releases and even emails sent to journalists the influence and authority that come with correctly using spelling, grammar and writing style, the AP Stylebook should be on your desk or desktop as well.

To find an AP Stylebook, check with your local bookstore or look here.