Eleanor Pierce

PR Writing: Seven AP Style Rules to Know

By: Eleanor Pierce | January 29, 2015 | 

PR Writing: Seven AP Style Rules to KnowBy Eleanor Pierce

Question: You’re doing some PR writing and it’s important to look like you know what you’re doing. How well do you know AP Style?

Look, if you’re aiming for some earned media results and craft an excellent pitch, missing one tiny little tidbit of AP style isn’t going to get your email chucked with yesterday’s garbage.

I believe if you catch your target’s attention and have an idea designed to serve them and their readers, you have a shot.

But is a great idea a good excuse for being sloppy in your PR writing? Nope.

Get to Know AP Style aka the Journalism Bible

If you’re a PR professional doing PR writing, there’s no reason not to know and love AP Style. Journalists know it. For many, the AP Stylebook is a sort of a Bible.

And they instinctively notice its misuse—they can’t help it. It’s been beaten into them since they were in J-school.

Here are a few AP Style rules you should know if you’re doing PR writing of any kind:

  • Do not capitalize job titles unless they immediately precede someone’s name. So this is correct: “Queen of the Realm Gini Dietrich,” but so is this: “Gini Dietrich, queen of the realm at Arment Dietrich.
  • Time: I am personally incapable of writing time and dates in any way other than AP style. So I always cringe when I see “January 30th” written out. The “th” adds nothing but extra letters! It’s worth your time to look up, learn, and learn to love the AP approach to time and dates. And if you can’t abide the exact AP approach, decide on your own rules so you do it consistently (at least within the same document—please don’t switch between a.m. and AM in one news release). Here are a few examples of correct time and dates: Jan. 30 at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30 at noon. April 16 at 12:30 p.m.
  • Percent: Spell it out. Don’t use “%.”
  • Numbers: Spell out one through nine, and use numerals for numbers 10 and larger.
  • State names: State names should now always be spelled out in your copy. This is a change that came through in 2014, so I am still working on un-learning the AP Style abbreviations (and the states you never abbreviate—looking at you, Iowa) forever burned into my brain.
  • When it comes to academic degrees, there is an apostrophe in the word “bachelor’s” and in “master’s,” (the proper names are Bachelor of Arts/Science and Master of Arts/Science) but an AA is called an “associate degree.”
  • There is only one space after a period. Period.

As Soon as You Learn the Rules …

Of course, AP Style is an ever-evolving beast. In just a few months, a new AP Stylebook will come out, and who knows, maybe the serial comma will finally be accepted.

What I’m really hoping is they’ll ditch for this whole notion of it being OK to use “over” when you mean “more than.” AP style ruled that one acceptable in 2014, but I’m not a fan (and I’m not alone in my feelings on the matter).

What changes do you hope will be coming to AP Style this year? Or here’s an even better question, do you even care about AP style?

About Eleanor Pierce

Eleanor Pierce is a recovering journalist who can't decide which part of the country to call home. She's happiest when she's reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs, and sarcasm. No, seriously.

  • EmilyNKantner

    Double spaces after a period make me crazy and are surprisingly more common than they should be.

  • EmilyNKantner I got in a serious debate with a friend about spaces after a period (on Facebook, of course). His point was “Who cares.” Mine was “I DO.” 
    Then I compared caring about spaces after a period to finish carpenters caring about the details of what they do … then we got into a debate about whether that was an appropriate metaphor.
    (Yes, my friends are nerds)

  • Eleanor Pierce EmilyNKantner You’re a nerd. 😉

  • belllindsay Takes one to know one! 

    p.s. Did I tell you I stayed up too late the other night because I was at a POETRY READING? Ha. #NerdTime

  • belllindsay Eleanor Pierce EmilyNKantner nerd with.     a capital  ” N”  
    Honestly – my AP style, or lack thereof is something I am trying to improve, I have a version of the AP bible, I just need to open it up and use it.   Thanks E.P.

  • Eleanor Pierce belllindsay Roses are red and Eleanor is pregnant, don’t complain to me, its just part of this segment.

  • Digital_DRK Eleanor Pierce belllindsay Ha!

  • EmilyNKantner makes you crazy….that’s a prerequisite of this community…welcome !

  • This is such an Ellie-esque post! I love it. The double spaces thing is super hard for some people. We have one client in particular who had the double space so drilled in to them growing up they feel like it’s a major crime to do only one!

  • LauraPetrolino I can’t help myself!

  • Ellie Pierce


  • EmilyWenstrom

    Amen. Preach it sister! #apaddict

  • This is great! Rare is the client who doesn’t insist on every job title being capitalized.
    But I have stopped spelling out percentage. I really think the need to update that on in particular. And I hadn’t heard we should be spelling out states, too. That seems crazy.
    Here’s a quiz: does everyone know their dateline cities? I cringe when people write “Chicago, Illinois” or “Houston, Texas.” Duh.

  • Eleanor Pierce EmilyNKantner Two spaces after a period says one thing: OLD. Someone on Facebook once said he didn’t care what anyone thinks, and I thought, “Good luck with that. Age discrimination exists.”

  • samemac

    For someone who went into ad copy and design and stayed there for three years, I am re-learning AP Style all over again. This is a great list of reminders. Thank you!

  • Digital_DRK I am with you. It’s there but needs a good dusting and I could use a clean sweep!

  • Thanks annelizhannan , there is safety (and shame) in numbers.

  • Great piece Eleanor Pierce . You have made me realize that I am a bit of a tin man requiring a bit of oil in the AP Style. Gone are the days when I could just click my heels and the answers were there in memory.

  • annelizhannan Eleanor Pierce It’s so frustrating! Did you know “backyard” is now one word in all cases?? Uhg.

  • samemac I’m due for a fresh copy of the manual this year I think. It’s not easy to keep up!

  • RobBiesenbach Yeah, the job title capitalization thing is a tough one, because you’re right: People want to see it that way. 

    And I’m pretty good with my dateline cities, I think … I’m glad this isn’t an *actual* quiz!

  • RobBiesenbach Eleanor Pierce EmilyNKantner Age discrimination certainly does exist. Most shameful is when we (older pros) fuel it with our apathy to improve or stay current with technologies and style evolutions.

  • RobBiesenbach Eleanor Pierce EmilyNKantner You’re absolutely right. And the thing is, there are “young/old” and “old/old” people—and the double space thing is just one way to mark yourself as the latter.
    Makes me think of a conversation I recently had with a good friend of mine. She was telling me she’s tired of being the young/old person in the room. She works at a newspaper, and at 60, is the most vocal proponent for digital-first prioritizing. She has to constantly remind 30-somethings how much the web matters. I find it baffling.

  • Eleanor Pierce  Sometimes I feel like I am living in the backwoods 😉

  • Eleanor Pierce EmilyNKantner annelizhannan I haven’t heard it described that way, but that’s perfect: young/old and old/old. In our business, especially, if you don’t keep up and embrace the new, you’ll definitely be left behind. You don’t have to master it all, but at least being aware of it is essential.

  • PRProSanDiego

    Preach, teach, testify Eleanor! Posts like these remind me I’m not the only one who believes details like this matter and keep me from checking myself into a mental health facility. I repeatedly correct these types of errors, including in my gig for a client as an online news site copy editor. Don’t even get me started on apostrophe abuse.

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