Creating Journalists at Emmanuel College

A guide for ENGL 2501 and ENGL 3801

Be in style: AP Style

I once had an editor who would sit down to line edit every story with a dictionary in one hand and an Associated Press Stylebook in the other. Every word, every reference, he’d flip open one or the other, laboriously checking whether I’d properly used numbers and titles and ultimately sucking the freshness out of every lead.

Here’s the thing about AP Style: it’s a reference manual, not a blunt instrument to apply to stories. A good editor understands this. A bad one ends up loading down the top of the story with so many “first reference” details that can easily be sprinkled through the story that it makes it unreadable.

A beginning journalist needs an AP Stylebook, whether it’s the familiar wire-bound version found in countless newsrooms, a Kindle copy or the iPhone app. More importantly, they need to know when to consult it.

Are you covering a budget hearing? You need to consult the stylebook for references on how to use numbers.

  • Numbers one through nine are written out; 10 and up are numeric;
  • Percentages never use % — it’s 10 percent;
  • If the town budget is $30,400,321, you COULD use that number in your lead, or you could use the less unwieldy $30.4 million and spell out the full number later.

Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. Don’t spell out a person’s age — The child is 1. His sister is 10 years old. Next year, he will be a 2-year-old. See how it changed?

I was going to write a list of the most common AP Style guidelines, but they were done so much better elsewhere — and who wants their professor outed for plagiarizing AP Style tips?


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This entry was posted on February 8, 2014 by in AP Style and tagged , , .

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