AP Style: five things to remember

In 1953, the Associated Press published a 62-page stylebook that listed guidelines for ideal grammar usage and attribution in journalistic writing. Since then, the stylebook has evolved into “The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.” Considered by many reporters and editors as the Bible of the journalistic industry, the AP Stylebook is one of the most important reference materials you need to know about.

AP Style refers to how people are to be named, places are to be identified and facts to be cited when reporting news. Copy editors do their work based on AP Style, so it’s important that you are familiar with the guidelines. Here are five.

Addresses

When covering a hard news story, you might include the address of where an event occurred.

  • Capitalize and spell out avenue, boulevard and street unless you write it with a numbered address. In that case, you would abbreviate to Ave., Blvd. and St. Lowercase and spell out when used alone or with more than one street name.
  • For an address number, use numerals. (e.g., 1702 Applegate Avenue)
  • Compass points need to be used to indicate quadrants of a city in a numbered address (e.g., 1702 N. 145th St.). Don’t abbreviate if the location number is abbreviated (e.g., West 42nd St.)
  • Use periods for P.O. Box addresses.

Numerals

  • Spell out one through nine. Use figures starting with 10.
  • Do not start a sentence with a number. If you can, recast the sentence and present your figure later in the sentence. Years are exceptions. (e.g., WRONG: 9 people are in Colin’s class. RIGHT: There are nine students in Colin’s class.)
  • Ages: separate with hyphens (e.g., The 14-year-old girl interviewed me.)

OK

Do not use ‘okay.’

Titles

  • Capitalize titles when they are used immediately before an individual’s name (e.g., New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg). Use either the title (if it makes sense) or the last name of the individual afterward.
  • Lowercase if a person’s title is separated from their name with a comma (e.g., The mayor, Michael Bloomberg…).

Composition titles

(Applies to book titles, computer game titles, movie titles, opera titles, play titles, poem titles, album and song titles, radio and television program titles and titles of lectures, speeches and works of art.)

  • Capitalize principal words. This includes prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters.
  • Capitalize articles (the, a, an) and words fewer than four letters if they are the first or last words in a title.
  • Quotation marks around names of all works except the Bible and books that are primary catalogs of reference material. No quotation marks around software titles such as Microsoft Word or Windows.
  • If titles are in a different language, translate into English unless the work is known to the public by its foreign name (e.g., da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Les Vacances de M. Hulot = “The Adventures of Monsieur Hulot”).

Not AP, but a side note: He said, she said, they said.

Your middle school English teacher might have taught you to use words that evoke emotion and show action. “Aahhh!” she screamed. “You killed my father — prepare to die,” he roared. “Rah rah rah,” they chanted.

Things are different in journalism. “Said” is the only word to use when you attribute a quote to someone.

“The University of Washington is facing a horrendous budget crisis,” she said. “There just isn’t enough money to go around to all the programs, so we’re going to have to cut about 200 teaching positions this summer.”

“I really like acting as a vampire,” Robert Pattinson said. “I really wish I were pale and romantic like Edward Cullen in real life.”

Now for “they said.” No. When you use “they said,” you are showing that two or more people are saying the same thing in unison. If this is the case, all right. Go with it. If not… avoid using “they said.”

This short guide should by no means serve as your replacement to the AP Stylebook. Details are based on entries from the 2007 edition. Also, feel free to comment about more AP Style entries. Happy writing!

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