By Kathleen Williams
Public relations is my second career. My first was in newspapers, and I started out ages ago as a lowly copy desk editor, where the AP Stylebook was drilled into me. Even before that, in an editing class at Miami University I can remember being tested on it. (That’s how long ago it was!)
As I moved from newspaper to newspaper, whatever dog-eared edition of the AP Stylebook I had went with me, to be replaced a year or two later when the bosses ordered new ones for us.
Last week, the latest edition of the online AP Stylebook was delivered to my email. Yep, I still use it. Yep, it’s still incredibly useful. Yep, it’s old school, but that’s OK. And this is why PR practitioners who know the value of clear writing should adopt it: It makes writing so much easier!
Let’s put aside social media for a minute – when it comes to Twitter, I’m sure even the AP’s style chief bends the rules (although, and I love this, AP Stylebook has its own Twitter feed @APstylebook with daily gems like these: ‘'Use pronoun preferred by transgender individual" and "FIFA is acceptable on first reference for the international soccer governing body," )
If you’re writing a press release, or content for a website, publication or even a blog, you should use AP style simply to bring consistency and discipline to your writing.
- AP style says time, date, place: The kickoff will be at 7 p.m. June 20 at the Cintas Center. (Note, no extraneous :00 after the 7. See how simple that makes it?)
- AP style says that on numbers for dates, you never add th or rd. It’s always June 20, not June 20th.
- AP style says capitalize titles before a name, not after. OK (never Okay), I can’t get away with that one in my current job, but I always WANT to do it the right way, which is the AP way. And you never capitalize fake titles, like "event planner Mary Jones."
- AP tells me how to properly abbreviate military titles, so I don’t have to guess: Is it Lt. Gen. or Lieut. Gen.? (It’s Lt. Gen.)
- AP style tells me when to use numbers and when to spell it out. “Anne Jones, executive director at the Ohio Department of Exceptional Writing, will be joined by five specialists in public relations as well as 15 students from area high school Honors English classes."
AP is second nature to me, but I still consult it regularly -– both my 2005 spiral-bound book and the latest electronic version that pops up on Word and in Outlook. When I see press releases NOT written in AP style, I wince. Most news outlets appreciate the effort to write in AP style -– it saves them the hassle of converting your press release to AP style if they pick it up, especially for briefs.
Most of all, it takes the guessing out of writing.
So do yourself a favor, and embrace your inner AP style God. (Oops, make that god.)