Many student journalists dread learning AP style. To help them out, I’ve pulled together some of the most essential rules. (See below or download PDF). Most of these examples were taken from the AP Stylebook. Let me know what important rules I’ve missed, or if you see a mistake.
- Avoid unnecessary capital letters
- Avoid alphabet soup (tons of abbreviations)
- If the capitalization rule for a word isn’t listed in the AP Stylebook, then consult Webster’s New World College Dictionary
- Capitalize nouns that identify persons, places or things (John, Mary, America, Boston, England)
- Capitalize words when they are part of the full name for a person, place or thing (Democratic Party, Mississippi River, St. George Street, St. Augustine)
- Lowercase common nouns when they stand alone (political party, river, street)
- Lowercase words in plural uses (the Democratic and Republican parties, Main and State streets, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers)
- Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name (Mayor Ralph Twinkle)
- Lowercase in most other cases (Ralph Twinkle, the mayor, loves beer).
- Use lowercase for job descriptions that aren’t formal titles (teacher, plumber, accountant, lawyer)
- Use the courtesy titles Mr., Miss, Mrs. And Ms. only in direct quotes or after first reference when a woman requests it. Example: Mrs. Smith or Ms. Smith.
- Use the first and last name without courtesy title when it is necessary to distinguish between two people who use the same last name, as in brothers and sisters.
- Be aware that some publications, such as the New York Times, disagree with AP on this point and use courtesy titles.
Names of people
- In general, use last names only on second reference
- First reference is the first time you refer to someone in print. Use the full name on first reference. On second reference, use the last name.
- In stories involving young people, use the first name on second reference if the person is 15 or younger. Exceptions: Use the last name if the person is involved in a serious crime, or is an athlete or an entertainer.
- Always use figures. The girl is 15 years old. The dog is 10. The law is 8 years old.
- Use hyphens when ages are used as adjectives before a noun (5-year-old boy)
- Use hyphens when ages are used as substitutes for a noun (The race is for 5-year-olds).
- Don’t use hyphens in other cases. The girl is 8 years old. The cat is 6 years old. The man, 24, has a brother, 22.
- Police arrested Joseph Fripper, 19, of Miami, Fla.
- Use abbreviations of Ave., Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address. Example: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
- If there’s no number, don’t use the abbreviation. Example: Pennsylvania Avenue.
- Spell out alley, drive, road, terrace, circle and similar words. Capitalize these words when used as part of the formal street name
- Use figures for address numbers. Example: 9 Green Turtle Circle. Incorrect: Nine Green Turtle Circle
- Spell out the names of all 50 states when the name stands alone in text
- The names of eight states are never abbreviated in datelines or text: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah. How to remember these: Two states are outside the U.S., and the others have five or fewer letters.
- Abbreviations are required when any of the other 42 states is used with the name of a town or city. Example: He lives in Nashville, Tenn. This is also correct: She lives in Austin, Texas. (no abbreviation because Texas is one of the eight states that aren’t abbreviated)
- The AP Stylebook lists the correct abbreviations for the 42 states. Examples: Ala., Ariz., Ind., Ill., La., N.Y., N.J., Pa., Ore., Okla.
- Many of these abbreviations are different from the ZIP code abbreviations. If you write an address, you should use the ZIP code abbreviations, which are also listed in the AP Stylebook.
- Tip: ZIP code abbreviations are capitalized and have no periods. AP Style abbreviations for the 42 states have periods.
Highways and roads
- Use formal names for highways. Examples: U.S. Highway 1, U.S. Route 1, Route 34
- Interstate 95 on first reference. Second reference: I-95.
- Study highway and road signs to figure out if it is a county, state or federal road
- Don’t start a sentence with a numeral unless the number identifies a calendar year. Wrong: 993 freshmen entered the college last year. Right: Last year, 993 freshmen entered college.
- Right: 2007 was a very good year.
- Generally, spell out whole numbers below 10. Use figures for 10 and above.
- Examples: They had three sons. He had 10 cars and two buses. The Smith family had 10 dogs, six cats and 97 hamsters.
- Use hyphens in such cases as these: four-room house, 10-room mansion.
- In print copy, use days of the week, not today or tonight. Right: Doris Jones shot the intruder Wednesday.
- But: In a story that is going to be published on the Web immediately, it’s OK to use today, this morning, this afternoon, tonight, etc. Right: Doris Jones shot the intruder today.
- Avoid such phrases as last Tuesday, next month or next week. It’s usually enough to let the verb indicate the time frame. Example: She will return on Tuesday
Time of day
- Use figures except for noon and midnight
- Use a colon to separate hours from minutes: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m.
- Wrong: 11 a.m. this morning.
- Avoid: 4 o’clock (4 a.m. or 4 p.m. is preferred)
- Observe correct style on a.m. and p.m. Wrong: 6 am. Wrong: 6 AM. Wrong: 6 A.M. Wrong: six am.
- When a company’s name or trademark is used, be sure to spell it correctly and use the proper style.
- Examples: Nike, not nike. Coke, not coke. MySpace, not myspace.
- Put quote marks around computer game titles, movie titles, opera titles, poem titles, album and song titles, radio and television program titles and the titles of lectures, speeches and works of art
- Examples: “Gone With the Wind,” and “CBS Evening News”
- But: NBC-TV “Today” program
- Don’t put quote marks around the Bible, catalogs of reference, almanacs, directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks and similar publications. And don’t put quotes around such software titles as WordPerfect or Windows.
Examples: Encyclopedia Britannica, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft
- Don’t assume you know all the style rules. Take the time. Look it up.
- Wisdom is knowing when to crack open that book and find out the right way to say it.
- Few people know every single rule and every single exception to the rules.
Updated Jan. 25, 2011