AP Style: How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

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NEW YORK—Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style.

“The deadly territory dispute between these two organizations … has claimed the lives of more than 63 publishing professionals this year alone,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein.

Copy editors, an odd bunch to begin with, can get a little hot-blooded when defending The AP Stylebook — maybe a little too hot-blooded, given the fictional pre-Valentine’s Day massacre described in the above excerpt from The Onion.

I too can get a little fervent when it comes to AP style. In fact, on this V-Day’s eve and via the magic of GovLoop, I’ve come to argue with all the passion in my soul on its behalf.

Here are four reasons I think every govie should own, use and, yes, fall in love with The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.

NO. 1: IT’S EASY TO HOLD

2016_apstylebook_cover_toutYou won’t find “love” in the AP Stylebook. You won’t find “Valentine’s Day,” either. (You’ll have to go to Webster’s New World College Dictionary for those entries.)

But you will find an easy-to-use reference tool that everyone can follow.

That’s the primary argument for using the AP Stylebook. You get everybody (literally) on the same page when it comes to grammar and usage guidelines. You don’t have to start from scratch and build your own. You don’t have to get into gun battles over whether the word “anti-social” should be corrected to read “antisocial.”

And you can get your hands on it easily — in print or online — whether from The Associated Press website, Amazon.com or virtually any other university or traditional bookseller.

NO. 2: GOVIES ARE WAY TOO SWEET ON RANDOM CAPITALIZATION

The hard truth is govies get style, grammar and punctuation wrong way too often.

We’re enamored with Random Capitalization. We love to uppercase City if we work for city government and County if we work for county government and the Governor if we work for state government.

Proofreading essay errors

We adore words like “utilize,” and we don’t care nearly enough whether our text is clear, precise and reader-friendly or full of gobbledygook and gov-speak.

If you ever want to see a broken-hearted govie, watch while I edit a news release that says (and I am not making this up), “construction work hours will be from 7:00 am till 5:00 pm Monday thru Saturday on Karen Dr. 150 ft W of Randall Road.”

The easiest way to prevent a sentence like that from sneaking into your news release is to purchase and consult your AP Stylebook.

If you don’t want to pay $22.95 to get a stylebook from AP or $13.98 for the paperback edition from Amazon, at least copy, paste and share with your staff members the following five guidelines. These simple rules of the road will repair 80 percent or more of the style errors govies are making every day:

  • Capitalization — In general, avoid unnecessary capitals. Use a capital letter only if you can justify it by one of the principles listed in the AP Stylebook.
  • Addresses — Use the abbreviations Ave., Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Spell them out and capitalize when part of a formal street name without a number: Pennsylvania Avenue.
  • Numerals — Spell out whole numbers below 10, use figures for 10 and above. Examples: They had three sons and two daughters. They had a fleet of 10 station wagons and two buses.
  • Times — Use figures except for noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m.
  • Titles — In general, confine capitalization to formal titles used directly before an individual’s name: The president issued a statement. The pope gave his blessing. Mike Pence, the vice president, declined comment.

Of course, there are variations and exceptions to each of those five biggies — which is another argument for owning and using a stylebook.

NO. 3: READERS WILL LOVE YOU!

With social media, websites, blogs, video and all manner of electronic communications available to us in the 21st century, government Cyranos no longer require handsome media types to pass notes to our beloved readers.

"I love you" message with roses and hand

Today, we communicate with our audience (citizens, constituents, social-media followers — whatever you want to call the people we serve) more frequently and more directly than ever before.

But to paraphrase Stan Lee, with great powers of communication come great responsibility. We owe it to our readers to present our words effectively and professionally. Gone are the days when we could expect a copy editor to polish up our text and fix our style errors.

We have to be responsible for the quality of our writing. And that’s another reason more govies need to fall in love with their stylebooks.

NO. 4: THE MEDIA WILL LOVE YOU, TOO!

While we do communicate more directly with our audiences than we did five or 10 years ago, govies’ love affair with the media hasn’t really died.

Computer keyboard with love key - internet concept

We still get a little thrill when our news releases are picked up and run in newspapers, magazines, radio or television. Why else would we continue to put out press releases unless we wanted them to be posted in print or online?

In next week’s blog, I’ll provide some tips on how to get more of your content posted in mainstream media, but in the meantime, let me point out the obvious.

Most news media — from big-city dailies to Podunk Weekly — use AP style. Your news releases have a much-greater chance of being published or posted if you do, too.

SUMMING IT ALL UP

Owning an AP Stylebook won’t make you the most-popular govie in the room. It won’t help you get a girl’s attention or win a boy’s heart. Flowers and candy won’t magically appear on your desk the moment you start using AP style.

But I guarantee, if you open the AP Stylebook and peer rapturously into its pages, you’ll improve the quality of your work, you’ll get more stuff published in mainstream media and you’ll become a government communicator readers will love.

Read The ‘Journalism.Gov’ Series

Rick Nagel is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Stephanie

I, too, adore these elements of effective style, good grammar, and correct punctuation. There are, however, a couple more very basic “biggies” that so many people get so wrong so often:

1. Apostrophes – People so often use them incorrectly to indicate that something is plural (“two employee’s” instead of “two employees”), and not often enough to indicate that something is possessive (the government’s interest, this month’s report, the world’s largest, parents’ documents, etc.) or missing (you’re, she’s, won’t, etc.).

2. Using the wrong word – your vs. you’re; to vs. too; its vs. it’s, less vs. fewer; between vs. among; their vs. there. They’re so basic, you just have to learn the difference.

3. Setting apart interjections, greetings, titles, dates, and other special terms – “Let’s eat, Grandma,” means something different than “Let’s eat Grandma.”

Profile Photo Rick Nagel

Stephanie, you are awesome!

I didn’t get too far into it in the blog, but probably my No. 1 pet peeve is the time, date, place sequencing. Sometimes, it feels as if I’ve spent half my life fixing those three elements of style.

Hey, any other govies have a grammar or punctuation pet peeve to share?

Lisa

Very few Govies actually write journalistic articles or reports, so I’m not sure why you would recommend the AP Style Guide over the more commonly accepted ones. I find the Chicago Manual of Style (academic or publishing focused) and Gregg Reference Manual (business focused) to be much more applicable to what most Govies are producing. The AP Style Guide’s stance on the serial comma alone (not to be used) was probably the instigator of the infamous fictional Valentine’s Day Massacre alone.

As you may be able to see, I love the serial comma since it improves readability and helps avoid ambiguity. If you do not regularly use the serial comma, a decision has to be made for each instance as to whether it is needed to avoid ambiguity or not. You can even set your grammar check preferences to indicate where one has been omitted. 🙂

Profile Photo Rick Nagel

Hi, Lisa!

I think the most important thing is that govies HAVE a stylebook — whether it’s the AP version or the Chicago Manual of Style. I like the AP because I’m most familiar and comfortable with it — and because I think it works best for news releases. For govies on a tight budget, it can be cheaper, especially if you go with the online version.

Re: the serial comma, maybe we shouldn’t go there. 🙂 Here’s the last line from the Onion article:

“Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Onion article link: http://www.theonion.com/article/4-copy-editors-killed-in-ongoing-ap-style-chicago–30806