Chapter 1: Cornerstones of Communication

Associated Press Style

The majority of journalists and public relations practitioners use AP Style, based on the Associated Press Stylebook. As the foundation for journalistic writing, this style focuses on achieving the best possible accuracy and consistency to make content easily read and understood by readers. This translates to the public relations arena because:

  • Adhering to a consistent style improves readability and brand recognition.
  • Using AP style gives you a common language with journalists, who often become the mouthpiece for your messages.

Many public relations agencies and corporations interviewing potential employees will require an AP style writing or copyediting test to ensure new hires come in able to write in this style from day one.

Clearly whoever wrote this press release doesn't know the new AP Stylebook is out.

Know the Basics
It’s worth your time to learn the basics of AP style that will surface again and again in your writing.

  • Dates
  • Numerals
  • Dollars & percents
  • Times
  • Addresses
  • Titles
  • Names
  • Composition titles
  • Abbreviations
  • Social media use

There are a few guiding AP style rules to memorize, but keep a hard copy or online version of the book handy for reference when other questions emerge. Like the English language, there are exceptions to many of the rules, but a few of the often-used AP style standards include:

Every word has one and only one spelling.

  • Check the stylebook first – then a dictionary. AP style occasionally has “preferred” spellings. (e.g., adviser rather than advisor)

Avoid unnecessary capitalization.

  • Far fewer words should be capitalized than you think.
  • Always look it up before you capitalize anything other than proper names.

Avoid excessive abbreviation.

  • Including an abbreviation in parentheses immediately after a name usually is not necessary.
  • In most cases, capitals and periods are not necessary for an abbreviation.
  • Some abbreviations are appropriate on all references: FBI for Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Punctuate according to generally accepted rules.

  • Major exception: Items in a series. AP style says not to use the
    “Oxford comma” (e.g., The flag is red, white and blue).
  • The book is a great reference tool. When in doubt, LOOK IT UP.

In general, spell out zero through nine.

  • Many exceptions and contingencies to this rule.
  • Look up “numerals” entry in the stylebook.
  • Pay attention and memorize.

An updated version of the stylebook is published annually. Some years, the changes are minimal and other years they are more significant. Many times organizations will use AP style as their overarching style but customize specifics such as how to abbreviate the organization’s name or whether to capitalize the names of its boards or committees.


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Write Like a PR Pro by Mary Sterenberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.