If you needed to ask a favor from someone who speaks only Spanish, you’d ask in Spanish if you could, right?
At the very least, you might learn enough Spanish to get your point across.
Likewise, if you’re reaching out to newspapers, magazines and other print media journalists, you’ll gain more respect and credibility, and ensure your message is understood, if you speak their language.
What language is that? AP style.
We need to know AP style here at EMSI because we provide news articles to the media that they can publish as is. I learned many years ago that press releases were not the most effective tools for getting the quantity and quality of placements we wanted for our clients.
By providing bona fide articles written in AP style, we make it easy for editors to choose our content over press releases from other agencies.
It’s important for you to know some basic AP style rules if you’re pitching the media yourself. So I asked Penny Carnathan, our Creative Director and a 30-year veteran editor with two major daily newspapers, to share some tips. (By the way, even though Penny is a full-time team member with EMSI, she’s a journalist at heart and still writes a column for the Tampa Bay Times!)
Penny’s Short Course on AP Style
AP (Associated Press) style is a compilation of more than 5,000 rules governing language use. It tells you when to spell out numbers, which job titles to capitalize, how to abbreviate addresses. These rules ensure that articles written by many different people for a single newspaper or magazine are consistent in their language and punctuation.
It also helps keep verbiage concise, clear and accurate. Some rules help writers avoid stereotypes, for instance, encouraging gender-neutral titles like firefighter instead of fireman and police officer instead of policeman.
Individual newspapers often adopt their own style, but it’s almost always just a customized, localized version of AP style. You don’t need to know and precisely match the style of the publication you’re writing to or for – that would be difficult! – but you should try to follow the basic rules of AP style.
Here are a few:
- Ages: Always use numerals for people and animals, but not for inanimate objects. Correct: The girl is 15 years old; the law is eight years old. Use hyphens for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun or substitutes for a noun: Correct: He’s a 5-year-old boy, but the boy is 5 years old.
- Commas in a series: Use commas to separate elements in a list, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple list. Correct: The flag is red, white and blue.
- Numbers: In general (except in the case of ages, distances and dimensions, when only numerals are used) spell out numbers 1 through 9 and use numerals for 10 and higher. Spell out a numeral at the beginning of a sentence except when the number is a calendar year. Spell out casual expressions: “Thanks a million.”
- Over vs. more than: Over refers to spatial relationships: The clock hangs over the sink. Use more than when referring to numbers and quantities: The temperature is more than 90 degrees.
- Quotation marks: Commas go inside quotation marks.
- Seasons: Winter, spring, summer and fall are not capitalized unless they’re the first word in a sentence or used as a proper noun.
- State abbreviations: Do not use ZIP code abbreviations such as FL (Florida) and MN (Minnesota) unless they’re part of a full address. Otherwise use traditional abbreviations, such as Fla. (Florida) and Minn. (Minnesota) and only when a city or county name comes before the state name. Do not abbreviate Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas or Utah.
- Addresses: Street, avenue and boulevard (St., Ave., Blvd.) are abbreviated in street addresses that include numbers. No other similar street designations – road, highway, terrace, circle – are ever abbreviated. Don’t abbreviate anything unless it includes an address number. Correct: She’s going to Canal Street. She lives at 222 Canal St.
This year is the 60th anniversary of the AP Stylebook. Its new updated version hits retail outlets July 30 and includes a much expanded section on social media. The printed book sells for about $20, or you can order an online version and even a mobile version.
I find some of these rules fascinating, but not easy, which is why I love having Penny here!
If you plan to communicate with the media, you’ll benefit from learning at least some of the most often used AP style rules, and it never hurts to make your writing more consistent, concise, clear and accurate!
Make them love your style,