Even for native speakers, English is a confusing written language with a million exceptions to every rule. When you layer on the specific demands of AP Style, used in most professional communications, things can get downright maddening.
After years of editing both reporters and comms pros, these are some of the most commonly repeated AP Style mistakes I see day in and day out. If you’re making these mistakes, don’t beat yourself up. This stuff is confusing. But here’s how to do it by the book:
There’s usually no Oxford comma in AP Style
For a simple sentence, like “PR Daily is the best, coolest and smartest resource,” there is no comma before the last item in the list. That’s proper AP Style. There are exceptions when sentences are more complicated, which you can read about here.
You’re capitalizing too much
A job title is only capitalized if it comes before a name: Executive Editor Allison Carter, but Allison Carter is executive editor. Likewise, departments are only capitalized when part of a formal title: The PR Daily Editorial Department, but just the editorial department in a more casual reference.
Also, while months and days of the week get capital letters, seasons do not.
You’re overusing quotation marks
In general, use quotation marks to quote the exact same words someone else used. That’s really about it. It’s common to see quotation marks put around more colloquial phrases, or around a non-standard usage like social media “likes.” You don’t need these. Read more about quotation mark usage here.
You’re also underusing quotation marks
AP Style really doesn’t use italics at all; it’s a legacy from the olden days when it was truly a wire and italics didn’t really translate. So rather than italicizing the titles of books, movies or other compositions, use quotation marks.
In the simplest terms, numbers from one to nine are spelled out using words while numbers 10 and over get numerals. In practice, there are many exceptions, so go read up on them here.
The names of all 50 U.S. states should be spelled out in the body of stories, even when used in conjunction with a city or town name.
The only exceptions for using abbreviations are if you’re using a dateline, if you’re identifying a politician (R-Ind., for example) or in a list. In that case, remember that you should be using the AP state abbreviations, which are different from postal abbreviations. Find the full list here.
What AP style mistakes do you see the most? Tweet us @PRDaily!