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?

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.

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