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Memorize and review ‘AP Stylebook’ rules for good AP style writing

The “Associated Press Stylebook,” often referred to as the “journalist’s Bible,” is the go-to source for members of the working press and others who write for online or print publications that follow the AP style.

Novices to AP writing, and even veterans from time to time, can easily make formatting errors if they neglect to memorize, and then regularly review “AP Stylebook” rules.

Here are some of the most common mistakes:

Decades

No apostrophe is used when writing out decades of history. As always, apostrophes are added only when letters are missing. The correct usage is “1920s” and “the ’20s.”

Academic degrees

A common mistake is to write “bachelor’s of science” when the correct usage is “Bachelor of Science,” capital letters and no apostrophe. However, when the writer is just generally referring to an undergraduate or graduate degree, “bachelor’s” or “master’s” is correct.

Addresses

In referring to thoroughfares such as streets and avenues, abbreviations are used only if the address has a number. It’s a mistake to write “234 Main Street”; the correct style is “234 Main St.” A common mistake is to use upper case when two or more streets are used. For example, “Third and Oak streets” is correct, not “Third and Oak Streets.” When you’re just referring to the street, not reporting an address, it’s wrong to abbreviate. “Oak Street” is correct, “Oak St. is not”

State abbreviations

AP abbreviations are not the same as postal abbreviations. “Madison Square Garden is in New York, NY” does not follow AP style. The correct style is “New York, N.Y.” The only reliable way to get abbreviations correct is to memorize all 42 of them. The names of eight states are written out in full; you have to memorize those, too.

Ampersand

The ampersand symbol (&) is not interchangeable with the word “and.” It is used only when it is part of a company name, such as “Flynn & O’Hara.” It is a mistake to write, “The museum garden was dedicated in memory of Mr. & Mrs. John Smith.”

Company and Co.

Writers tend to make liberal use of the “Co.” abbreviation when, in fact, AP rules permit its use when the business actually uses it as part of its proper name. It is incorrect to write “The Our Town Fire Co.”

Numbers

A common mistake is to start a sentence with an Arabic number, such as, “326 graduates earned their diplomas.” The number should be written out, “Three hundred twenty-six graduates earned their diplomas.”  Also, writers often use “1st, 2nd, and 3rd,” when the correct form it to write out “first” through “ninth.”

Military titles

Correct abbreviations for military titles, like state abbreviations, need to be memorized by anyone using the Associated Press style. For example, although “Cpt.” and “Lieut.” are commonly used for captain and lieutenant, the correct forms are “Capt.” and “Lt.”

Courtesy titles 

Associated Press style does not allow the use of courtesy titles, such as “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Miss” or “Ms.” On first reference, the full name is written out, such as “Joe Smith” or “Helen Smith.” On further references, it is just “Smith.”

The wrong word

Writers frequently get similar-sounding words such as “enquire” and “inquire” and “awhile” and “a while” mixed up. It’s important to check the entries in the AP Stylebook if there is any doubt.

Prefixes

Writers get confused on how to use the prefixes “pre” and “re.” In some cases, they are followed by a hyphen; in other cases, they are not. The general rule is to use a hyphen if the second word begins with a vowel. As the entry in the Associated Press Stylebook for both prefixes indicates, it’s best to check the New World College Dictionary.

The value of a specific writing style

The value of a specific writing style, whether it is AP style, Chicago style or an altogether different style developed by a publication for its own unique purposes, is that it mandates a uniformity and consistency that enhances reader confidence in the writing process.

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