A+ Tips for A.P. Style

by Tanner Tait

Tanner Tait, 19, secretary extraordinaire of Newburgh, N.Y., is here to explain a few facts about AP Style, its usage and its purpose.

If you’re a journalist, you’ve likely had to write reports and analyses in a style that is similar to the sentence above. This is called AP Style, and it’s typically used when writing news stories.

Say, Tanner, what’s the big deal with all of this AP Style mumbo jumbo anyhow? Quiet down, voice in my head, let me explain:

News writing is a media that professes four major tenets (as listed by the OWL):

  • Consistency
  • Clarity
  • Accuracy
  • Brevity

By creating a standardized form of writing that tries to condense information into concise, clean stories, it works to help transmit information quickly: timeliness is significant when it comes to news writing. Though some outlets have varying usages of AP Style, a standard form exists, and some of its core components are listed here:

Punctuation

  • Commas and periods belong INSIDE quotation marks.
    • “Well I’ll be darned,” Old Man Fowler croaked, “I guess we do accept walk-in hours from 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.”
  • The Oxford Comma does not exist here – so don’t use it.
    • The colors of the flag are red, white and blue.
    • I know it feels awkward not to use a comma after the word “white,” but AP style is dedicated to brevity, consistency, clarity and accuracy.
  • Movies, books, TV shows, magazines and newspapers are never italicized. The first three are put in quotation marks, whereas the latter two receive no special punctuation.
    • “The Revenant” might be the greatest film ever made. I know this because I read it in The New York Times, next to an article about how awesome the Writing Center is. Note: Magazines and newspapers with “the” as part of the proper name must be capitalized, such as The Washington Post. If “the” is not part of the proper name, do not capitalize it.

States

  • When dealing with states, spell out their name unless combined with a city.
    • After moving from Cornwall, N.Y. to Rockland, Maine, the Streetlight Gang became fishermen. They would’ve chosen California, but that’s too far away. Note: states with five or fewer letters are not abbreviated, and abbreviations differ from mail carrier ones: Kan. = Kansas, Ark. = Arkansas.

Titles

  • Generally, formal titles are capitalized when used directly before an individual’s name.
    • President Sanders / the president
  • You also capitalize titles before names, but never after.
    • Administrative Assistant Steven Fowler once told me that he likes gardening. Rebecca Gordils, retired tutor, prefers hamburgers.
  • Some titles are often abbreviated, such as Gov., Lt. Gov., Rep., Sen., Gen. and the Rev., unless they are used in quotations.
    • Reistetter said, “Governor Nunziato knows nothing about the number four!” Note: “doctor” is always abbreviated to “Dr.” in front of a name, even in quotations.

Numerals

  • Generally when dealing with numerals, spell out zero through nine, but use numerals for 10+.
    • One, six, 12 and 213,421.
  • Ages require numerals.
    • 9-year-old Sarah just lost another tooth. Her brother is 3 years old, and her mom is in her late 30s.
  • Try not to start sentences with numbers, but if you’re going to do so, spell out the number (unless it is for calendar years, like 2012).
    • Twenty thousand people showed up to the party, but Steve only had enough avocadoes for three of them.
  • Fractions less than one are spelled out, like two-thirds and three-sixths.
  • Never use the percent symbol (%); always spell it out.

Dates and Time

  • Numerals are used when telling time, except for noon and midnight, and do not use zeroes unless the time has specific minutes.
    • Nothing good happens after 2 a.m., but noon is all right. I prefer 10:01 a.m., when the Writing Center is open for business (until 8 p.m. throughout the week, 5 p.m. on Fridays).
  • In typical news stories, you’ll want to use the day of the week, such as Monday and Tuesday, instead of yesterday or tomorrow. This is because your news story may not be released the day that you write it, so your definition of “yesterday” will be different than that of the reader.
  • When writing months, spell them out, unless you’re indicating a specific date. In that case, abbreviate it, and separate the year with commas.
    • On Oct. 19, 1996, a brilliant baby was born. He wrote his first sonnet the following January, and he ate his last burrito in July 2015.

Some styles and tips have been left out because it’s impossible to list every rule in a quick blog post. For more information, consult the OWL or the Associated Press Stylebook – both of which give an extensive list of all current rules of the AP Style.

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