Before we can even get into the blunders, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what AP style is and why we think it’s about as awesome as Starbucks Frappuccinos.
AP style is the art of writing copy based on the standards created by the Associated Press news agency. In the marketing world, most people consider these standards the El Capitan of copywriting rules. At TRIO, we have a few word nerds who actually refer to the “AP Stylebook” as their word bible.
In our industry, we look at words all day, every day, and can pick out a typo from about a mile away. Of course, we make mistakes, too. It’s human nature. But nine times out of 10, if we have a question about a word choice or formatting structure, we turn to…you guessed it…our AP Stylebook to keep us in check.
After a while, we’ve started to pick up on some common mistakes that people make when they write that we thought would be worth sharing.
Now that we’re all clear that AP style is our go-to approach let’s review some of these common blunders.
- Double space after a period
We’re going to go way back – back to the invention of the typewriter. Yep, that is when the double space after a period was born. Some of you reading this may have never even seen a typewriter. That’s okay. Fast forward 140 years and just know that once the computer came on the scene, the double space at the end of a sentence went out the door. Perhaps the AP reporters wanted to give their thumbs an extra break. Regardless of the reason, just know there should only be one space after a period. Period.
Do you even know what a.m. and p.m. stand for? It’s okay if you don’t but when it comes to writing copy just remember that our friends ante meridiem and post meridiem like periods between their initials. At least that’s what the AP folks tell us. So, when you are writing out a particular time of day, use lowercase and periods (for example 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.). Another tip, spell out noon and midnight instead of using 12 p.m. and 12 a.m.
Before we leave this topic though, we must also share that the time of day always goes before the date.
No: The event will be held on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.
Yes: The event will be at 7 p.m. on Sept. 17.
Finally, when writing any span of time that mixes 20th- and 21st-century dates, the full year must be given for both. For example: 1998-2002, not 1998-02.
- Drop the Zeros
This is probably one of the most common blunders we see – oftentimes on event posters, websites and social media copy. When you are at the top of the hour (i.e., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., etc.) or you have no cents associated with your dollar bills, just drop the zeros. Like the double space elimination, perhaps the AP editors decided the zeros were taking up unnecessary space, so they got the boot. So, if you pay $11 to see a 7 p.m. movie, you can leave the zeros at home.
We’re sure there has to be some psychology behind this one, but we’re not quite sure what it is. For some reason, we see unnecessary capitalization of titles all the time. You should never capitalize titles unless they are formal titles that are used immediately before a name. For example, Queen Elizabeth or President Donald Trump are both official titles and are capitalized. If Charles Brown is the executive director of an organization, his title is always lowercase. Even though Brown’s title is lowercase, that doesn’t make his role any less important. Notice we didn’t say Mr. Brown. That’s because AP style doesn’t use courtesy titles.
- Toward versus Towards
This one is pretty simple to remember but is often misused. It is always “toward,” never “towards.” So where did “towards” come from anyway? According to Grammarly (a very handy auto-correcting tool you should definitely invest in if you write a lot online), “toward” is the preferred spelling in the U.S. and Canada, while the U.K. and Australia prefer to use “towards.” While technically both spellings are correct, AP style holds a strong stance. In the AP Stylebook, it simply says, “toward, not towards.” Funny how the grammar gurus don’t have much to say about that one. We think they are serious.
This little guy can be a real pain sometimes. He loves to show up when he was never invited. Whether it’s on a real estate billboard promoting, “Homes starting in the 200’s” or jumping in between the letters T and S wreaking all types of havoc (it’s vs. its), the apostrophe can completely ruin the quality of your marketing material. The apostrophe should be used in conjunctions and to show possession (such as, “Katie’s book…”) but it should not be used to communicate that something is plural. Takeaway: It’s “homes starting in the 200s” not “the 200’s” and “We love the 90s” not “the 90’s.”
If you’re still reading, we’re impressed. You must be enjoying the AP style Kool-Aid. Let’s shift over to how to reference a month in your copy. When a month of the year is used with a specific date, you should always abbreviate Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec. When you are using the month alone or with a year, spell it out. Additionally, when a month is used with a year, do not separate the year with a comma. When you are referencing a month, day and year, set off the year with a comma (e.g., January 2016; Jan. 2; Jan. 5, 2018). Hard to remember? No worries. Just refer to page 185 in the latest edition of the “AP Stylebook” for a refresher when needed.
- Composition Titles
These are always tricky for people. Going through school we can even remember different teachers having different preferences for how to style composition titles. Luckily, AP style keeps it simple. For the titles of books, films, TV shows, speeches or works of art, use quotation marks (e.g. “Modern Family,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”). For the titles of magazines and newspapers, do not italicize. Simply capitalize the principal words, including prepositions and conjunctions of four or more letters (e.g. US Weekly, The New York Times). Another pet peeve of ours is when people use entitled (deserving) instead of titled. You are entitled to a second piece of cake, but this fabulous culinary creation is titled, “Death by Chocolate.”
- Oxford Comma
It’s the age-old question that has plagued writers for centuries: do you use the Oxford comma or not? An Oxford comma is a comma that is used before a conjunction (like “and” or “or”) in a series (e.g., I’ve got apples, oranges, and pears). This little punctuation has caused huge debates among writers as to whether or not it is a critical component of modern communication. We personally are not fans of the Oxford comma — and coincidentally, neither is AP style. According to the AP Stylebook, you use a comma to separate elements in a series, but never before the conjunction in most simple series (e.g., the flag is red, white and blue).
Now that we have gotten through these common copywriting blunders, we would love to hear from you if you have any pet peeves when it comes to grammar? What are your thoughts on the Oxford comma? Let us know by taking our poll on social media!
And last but not least, be sure to follow APStylebook on Twitter. As much as we love to follow their rules, the rules change. Following along with the AP folks will help you stay abreast of the latest and greatest adjustments to their standards.
Can’t get enough? Here are a few tips for those of you who eat this up like we do.
- Story headlines are never capitalized.
- African-American is hyphenated.
- Nonprofit is one word.
- Theater (never re unless it is the proper name)
- Fundraising (noun), fundraising (adjective), fundraiser (noun)
- Gray (not grey)
- Startup (one word)
- States are now spelled out. No more Charleston, S.C. It’s “Welcome to Charleston, South Carolina.”
And while rule changes and words evolve with AP style, just like they do in dictionaries, there are some purists (and we have a few on our team) who still won’t accept that “over” can now be used with a numerical value. It used to be “over” and “under” were used for spatial relationships and “more than” and “less than” were used to convey numerical value. One would never write, “Over 5,000 students comprise the freshman class.” It would be, “More than 5,000 students…” Sorry AP team, we just can’t bring ourselves to buy into that one.
Still wanting more? Check out the APStylebook.com website. You can sign up for their e-newsletter, take challenge quizzes and access all types of tools.
Cheers to being the best writer you can be!