Chapter 3 – AP Style

TOPICS: Associated Press Stylebook: abbreviations, spelling, numbers, names and titles, capitalization. Misused words, comma usage, colons and semi-colons, punctuation, active and passive voice.

AP Stylebook

Anyone interested in pursuing a career in journalism should purchase a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook and be familiar with AP style. The Associated Press Stylebook is available from the Associated Press and at most bookstores. You can also get an online subscription to the Stylebook for $25 a year. Below I will list a few important examples for AP style. But for the most competent journalist, it a good idea to buy and memorize as much of the stylebook as you can. There is also a great site for review exercises for AP Style and grammar at


According to AP style, it’s better to avoid an alphabet soup. In other words, do not use abbreviations or acronyms that the reader will not recognize quickly. A sentence full of abbreviations and acronyms can confuse readers. A sentence like: “The CEO of AARP told the NHO that a recent C/A report had been OK’d by the GAO,” make for some tough reading. General principles:

  • Before a name/titles: abbreviate titles when used before a full name: Dr. Gov., Lt. Gov., Mr., Mrs., the Rev. and certain military designations listed in teh military titles entry. For more see courtesy titles; legislative titles; military titles, religious titles; and the entries for the most commonly used titles.
  • After a name: abbreviate junior or senior after an individual’s name. Abbreviate company, corporation, incorporated and limited when used after the name of a corporate entity. See also company names and academic degrees in the AP Stylebook for more.
  • Dates or numbers: use the abbreviations A.D., B.C., a.m., p.m., No., and abbreviate certain months when used with the day of the month. For example: In 450 B.C.; at 9:30 a.m.; in room No. 6; on Sept. 16. Abbreviate long monthes (i.e. Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec.) when part of a date (Sept. 9, 2002). Spell out months otherwise. (He left in September.) Always spell out short monther (i.e. March, April, May, June, an July).
  • Numbered addresses: Abbreviate avenue, boulevard and street in numbered addresses. For example: He lives on Pennsylvania Avenue. He lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
  • States: Abbreviate states, using the ling, old-fashioned abbreviations and when used with a town or city, such as Springfield, Mass., Baltimore, Md., Billings, Mont., or Syracuse, N.Y. (If the full mailing address, including ZIP code, is given, then use the Postal Service abbreviation, such as MA, MD, MT, or NY.
  • Acceptable: Use periods in the abbreviations for U.S. and U.N., but do not for most others, such as the FBI, CIA, NAACP, AARP, or ABC News.
  • When in doubt, spell it out.

Below are some commonly misused words–primarily because they may be spelled two ways in English usage or have only one correct spelling in American English but are frequently misspelled. Make sure that you memorize the following words:

  • accommodate
  • adviser
  • a lot (two words)
  • all right (two words)
  • ax
  • canceled
  • compatible
  • consensus
  • gray
  • judgment
  • liaison
  • occurred
  • OK, OK’d, OK’ing, OKs
  • protester
  • recommended
  • restaurateur
  • rock ‘n’ roll
  • sheriff

In general, use last names only on second reference. When it is necessary to distinguish between two people who use the same last name, as in married couples or brothers and sisters, use the first and last name. In stories involving youngsters, generally refer to them by first name on second reference if they are 15 or younger and by their surname at 18 and older.


Do not capitalize a word unless you have a good reason to do so. Do capitalize names of people (Mary Jones), proper names (The Smithsonian Institution), companies (Gulf Oil Co.), places (Cape Cod), and months (October).

Misused words

Reporters who make elementary mistakes, such as confusing it’s with its, will lose the respect of their readers and probably lose their jobs. Anyone who has trouble with these words should make a concerted study of them to correct that problem. Below are four sets of words that writers commonly confuse:

  1. it’s/its: It’s is a contraction for it is. It should be used sparingly. In formal writing, it is generally better to spell out it is. Its means “belonging to it.” It is a possessive pronoun, like his, hers, theirs, ours, and yours, none of which has an apostrophe.
  2. there/they’re/their: There is an adverb meaning “in or at that place.” Note the similarity between here and there. They’re is a contraction for they are. It should be used sparingly. In formal writing, it is generally better to spell out they are. Their is an adjective meaning “of or relating to them.” It is used as a modifier before a noun.
  3. affect/effect: The words affect and effect both have primary and secondary uses, a complication that confuses many people. In most situations, it is best to learn the primary uses and avoid the secondary uses.
    • Primary Uses: Affect is usually a verb meaning “to influence or produce a change:”
      • Solar storms affect global climate.
      • The national deficit affects global trade negotiations.
    • Effect is usually a noun meaning “a result.”
      • The storms had an effect on the global climate.
      • The deficit had an effect on the global trade negotiations.
  4. then/than: Then is an adverb meaning “at that time” or “next in time or order.” Use for elapsed time or sequence. Than is a comparative conjunction used to express preference of difference. Use for comparison.
Comma Usage/Colons & Semi-colons

Comma rules can sometimes be confusing. There are several good online sites that use reviews and exercises to help you strengthen your knowledge of proper comma usage, including: The Owl at Purdue, and A Brief, No Nonsense Guide to Comma Usage. Below are eight simple rules that cover most of the proper uses of commas.

  1. Commas seperate items in a series.
  2. Commas set off parenthetical information that could be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning.
  3. Commas are used before a coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses.
  4. Commas usually separate direct quotations from the attribution.
  5. Commas set off words of direct address from the rest of a sentence.
  6. Commas separate thousands from hundreds, and millions from hundred thousands.
  7. Commas separate introductory words, phrases and clauses from the main clause of the sentence.
  8. Commas set off years in dates and cities and states in addresses.
Active and Passive Voice