Make Your Blog Shine with Associated Press (AP) Style Tips

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Associated Press (AP) style, here’s what you need to know: The annually published AP Stylebook is the Holy Bible of journalism. It offers a sports reporter in Iowa City, a news blogger in Richmond, and a fashion editor in San Francisco a common set of guidelines to follow regarding everything from using punctuation to formatting numbers, datelines, state abbreviations, commonly used words (example: Is it website or Web site?), and more. Bloggers who use AP style have a surefire way to know that their posts will be consistently formatted.

The AP Stylebook is so complicated that, when I taught public relations writing, my students did weekly copyediting exercises meant in part to familiarize them with the style guide. I strongly encourage anyone blogging on a regular basis to purchase a copy. It drastically simplifies the process of deciding (and remembering) when to spell out a number or use the numeral or how to format dates. A new edition is released every year, and it does change, so you’ll want to replace your copy every few years. For example, for many years, the AP format for “website” was “Web site.” Several years ago, it became “website.” “E-mail” became “email.” And so on. So if you have an old copy from your college days, you’re better off buying a new version.

Here are a few basic AP style guidelines to follow:

1.)    Numbers: Spell out numbers one through nine; use the numeral for 10 and above, unless the number comes at the beginning of a sentence. Same goes for ordinal numbers (first or second, but 10thor 11th). Some common exceptions: ages (She is 3 years old.), percentages (7 percent), military divisions (2nd battalion), dates and times (1 p.m., Nov. 3). All numbers are spelled out if they begin a sentence, with the exception of years, which always appear as numerals. Numbers in headlines always appear as numerals (5 AP Style Tips for Bloggers).

2.)    Cities and states:

  • Abbreviate states with names longer than five letters when preceded by a city name (Virginia Beach, Va., but Austin, Texas). Hawaii and Alaska are also spelled out in all references (Anchorage, Alaska). AP style deviates significantly from postal abbreviations, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself. For example, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, would become Fort Lauderdale, Fla., not Fort Lauderdale, FL.
  • When preceded by a city name, the names of states are set off by commas (She has lived in Lancaster, Pa., for 12 years. She has lived in Pennsylvania for 12 years).
  • Spell out Mount, Mountain and Fort, but abbreviate Saint (St.) in all uses.
  • Washington, D.C., is the appropriate punctuation when referring to the District of Columbia.
  • City and state formatting was always my students’ favorite. 😉

3.)    Dates: Days of the week are always written out unless they appear in tabular form. Months are abbreviated if a specific date is referenced (Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, but November 2012). The following months are not abbreviated: March, April, May, June and July. Numerals are always used. Commas are used as follows:

4.)    Serial commas: Serial commas are not used unless the series contains multiple conjunctions. For example:

  • All writers need a reliable laptop, a good imagination and a sense of purpose. (no serial comma)
  • All writers need a good imagination, a reliable laptop and printer, and a sense of purpose. (The serial comma is used for clarity.)

5.)    Composition titles: How to format composition titles can be one of the trickiest concepts to grasp in AP style. Quotations marks are typically used: for example, Jessica Spotswood’s “Born Wicked,” Joss Whedon’s “Firefly.” Periodicals or works of reference don’t take quotation marks: The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Encyclopedia Britannica. Writers might have their own way of formatting titles, in which case, your own “local style” can override AP style—just be sure to format consistently.

If you have a keen eye and follow my blog, you’ve probably noticed that there are cases in which I deviate from AP style. For example, I use the serial comma in all instances, I write “okay” instead of “OK,” and I don’t capitalize “web.” Unless you’re writing for a blog or online publication that requires you to adhere to AP style, it’s acceptable to create your own style—once again, as long as it’s consistent. Using AP style simply offers us an easy reference for formatting.

This post is just a taste. For more AP style guidelines, purchase your copy of the AP Stylebook here. Both hard copies and searchable web-based versions are available.

What about you? How do you decide how to format your blog posts? What has been the most difficult part of formatting to find a consistent style for?

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