7 AP style changes for clear, concise PR copy

The latest edition of the AP Stylebook includes a chapter on data journalism. Aside from that, several new entries can help tighten your writing.


It’s no longer only specialists who speak the language of data.

On May 31, AP Stylebook released its latest edition, which includes roughly 200 new or revised entries. The publication also comes with a new chapter on data journalism.

AP Stylebook wrote in a press release:

Data journalism has become a staple of reporting across beats and platforms, no longer reserved for specialists. Government agencies, businesses and other organizations all communicate in the language of data and statistics. To cover them, journalists must become conversant in that language.

Though AP Stylebook’s remarks were geared toward [RR1] journalists, PR pros should take note—especially as they craft copy that uses numbers and other data to quantify results and industry trends.

Though the new chapter and focus on data journalism is one of the biggest changes in this year’s edition of AP Stylebook, many of the other new or revised rules are meant to clear confusion and help communicators write more concise copy.

Here are seven AP style changes to note:

1. ‘Fake news’ is deliberately false, not just disputed.

As communicators grapple with the rising problem of fake news, remember that unverified or flawed reports are not the same as the articles that purposefully misinform online:

2. Be precise about a data breach or hacking.

Many journalists and communicators are overusing the word “cyberattack.” AP Stylebook cautions against it, advising to consider the outcome of the leak when deciding to employ or substitute the term:

3. Watch for technology abbreviations.

As newer technology becomes more prevalent, abbreviations might become commonplace. Such is the case with “VR,” but AP Stylebook cautions against using the same treatment with augmented reality:

4. Conscientiously write about gender.

Be aware that a person might identify as a gender different from that individual’s physiological sex at birth, or might identify outside of “male” or “female.” AP Stylebook advises the following:

AP Stylebook also added the singular “they,” which publications such as the Washington Post accepted in 2015. However, you should use the term only when you can’t write around it:

5. Properly quote your sources.

Though the phrasing or spelling might not jibe with AP style, always quote written words as they are given to you. Putting the sentence(s) in quotation marks or block quotes will tell your readers that it is a direct quote, instead of an AP style error on your part.

6. Use “reform” and “incident” with clarity.

AP Stylebook offered the following advice when writing about change (such as a political or organizational shift) or tragic news:

7. Avoid using “addiction” lightly.

Though you might think your love of chocolate qualifies you as one, communicators should not throw around phrases such as “addict” “addiction,” “abuser” and “abuse” when writing about those with unhealthy drug and alcohol behaviors:

Take care, too, when calling a drug an “opiate”:

The lethal mixture of drugs given in death sentences should not be referred to as a “cocktail,” but you can use the term in health care communications. Other phrases, such as “Molotov cocktail,” are also OK:

Learn more about these changes and more AP style rules in our Twitter #RaganChat on Tuesday, June 20 at 3 p.m. Eastern time. We will be joined by AP Stylebook’s product manager, Colleen Newvine, and editor Paula Froke.

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