AP Style: Why We Use It

March 4, 2019

One question the public relations team gets from faculty and communications colleagues across campus is about the use of AP Style.

First, what is AP Style? AP Style follows the guidelines from the Associated Press Stylebook, which is the preferred style for journalists and most news. Basically, the Stylebook makes the rules about acceptable word use and jargon and is updated continuously to keep up with trends.

AP Style was initially developed for print media where writing space was limited and it was costly to correct errors. Now that we have online news and the cost of mistakes is less of an issue, outlets continue to use AP style to ensure that news writing style is uniform across outlets, easy to read, concise and also free of bias.

AP style varies significantly from academic writing. In academic and particularly research writing, the order is focused on the scientific method, and shows a progression. In AP writing, the style more closely resembles an inverted pyramid – the most important information is at the top and the supporting information is lower in the story. This stems from the days when column inches ruled a newsroom – in this format they could literally cut off the bottom of a story to fit a space without losing the important information.

Question Research Hypothesis Experiment Analyze Test Lede / Lead Less important information Quotes End

Why do we use AP style? In public relations, one of the most important reasons we use AP style is to give journalists information in the way that is most valuable to them. As newsrooms shrink, reporters have less time to redevelop content into AP style, so we use this style to make their job easier and more streamlined. Plus, it helps practitioners develop press releases and content that is easy to read and concise.

When do we use AP Style? We use AP style in all press materials, including press releases, research briefs, expert alerts, Q&A’s, pitches and more. Other areas of owned content on University channels generally use Chicago Style as a preferred editorial practice.

Here are a few general tips for using AP Style:

  • Commas: AP style does not use the Oxford comma, so do not use a comma before the last item in a simple series.
  • Titles: formal titles that precede an individual’s name are capitalized. Titles that fall after are lowercase. Use a person’s full name the first time they are introduced, and then all following references should only use their last name.
  • States: Spell out names of states unless preceded by a city or county. For second references, abbreviate all state names. AP Style has state abbreviations!
  • Numbers: spell out whole numbers below 10 or those that start a sentence. (i.e., he had eight oranges) Use figures for any numbers 10 and above, or for all ages and percentages. (i.e., she was 8 years old)
  • Time: Use figures except for noon and midnight (i.e., 6:40 p.m., 11 a.m.)
  • Quotation marks: Use quotation marks for quotes featuring exact wording. Punctuation goes inside of the quotation marks. If there is dialogue, each person’s words are placed in separate paragraph with quotation marks. For a quote within a quote, use single marks.

Note that there are many exceptions to these rules, and that the AP Stylebook is always reviewing and clarifying rules. Check out the Purdue OWL AP Style writing guide for more clarity. Follow AP Stylebook on Twitter for the latest updates.

Let us know if you have any questions! You can reach the University Public Relations team at unews@umn.edu.