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11 AP Style Guide Rules That Are Easy to Mess Up

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When I was in journalism school (in both the late 1990s and mid 2000s), the AP Stylebook was our bible. We didn’t go to class without it and frequently had quizzes and assignments built around it.

I recently wrote a blog post about the future of journalism and how astonished I was to learn that my undergraduate journalism students were never made to even purchase their own copy of the AP Stylebook, let alone use it.

If you are going to write for a newspaper (even some magazines) you need to have your AP Style Guide handy. And the more current the style guide the better. So when I found this article at Ragan.com about frequently botched AP style points, I thought I’d share them.

More than vs. Over

Use more than when referring to numbers.

  • Right: He had to walk more than 10 miles to find the nearest gas station.
  • Wrong: He had to walk over 10 miles to find the nearest gas station.

State Abbreviations

These are tricky because you don’t abbreviate all states. The ones you do not shorten are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, and Utah. Every other state has it’s own abbreviation, and they don’t always make sense. Some states are abbreviated with two letters, three letters, four letters, or initials. Here are a few examples:

  • Ariz.
  • Tenn.
  • Colo.
  • Fla.
  • Ind.
  • Ga.
  • Ky.
  • Md.
  • R.I.
  • N.D.

When in doubt, look it up!

Titles

These constantly stump me, and I look up the rules for titles all the time. For some reason, the titles rule is hard for me to remember. And to be honest, this rule may change depending on who you are writing for. The rule states that you capitalize formal titles when they precede an individual’s name.

  • Right: Mayor Birdie Googins attended the press conference.
  • Wrong: Birdie Googins, Mayor of Springfield, attended the press conference.

Numbers

Write out the numbers one through nine and use numerals for numbers 10 and higher.

  • Right: My mother has six siblings and my father has 13.
  • Wrong: My mother has 6 siblings and my father has thirteen.

Percent

Write out the word “percent” instead of using the “%” sign.

Months and Seasons

Only abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec. when using it with a specific date.

  • Example: Jan. 1, 2012

Spell out the months when they stand alone or are combined with a year.

  • Example: January 2012 was a very cold month.

Toward

This word DOES NOT end in an “s”. Neither does forward, backward, upward, etc…

That vs. Which

This is another tricky rule. Use “that” and “which” when referring to inanimate objects or animals without names. It gets a little trickier when using with clauses. Use “that” for essential clauses that are important to the meaning of the sentence.

  • Example: I remember the day that I met my future wife.

Use “which” for nonessential clauses where the pronoun is less necessary.

  • Example: The team, which won the championship last year, begins their 2012 season next month.

Farther vs. Further

When referring to a physical distance, use “farther”.

  • Example: I walked farther today than I did yesterday.

When referring to an extension of time or degree, use “further”.

  • Example: I promise to look further into this problem.

Street Addresses

The words “street”, “avenue”, and “boulevard” are only abbreviated when they are a part of a numbered address. The words “court”, “drive”, “lane”, and “way” are not abbreviated.

  • Example: Jane lives at 3 Sylvan Road.
  • Example: Josh lives at 123 Constitution Ave.

Composition Titles

Magazines and newspapers are not italicized, just capitalized. Books, films, TV shows, works of art, etc., use quotation marks around them.

  • Example: She read The New York Times before she turned on the television to watch “Survivor".

English is a tricky language—and how you write it can be even trickier. Before you start in on a writing project for a client, be sure to ask them what style guide they use. They may even have one of their own.

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