• Beth Wagner

Frenemy: The AP Stylebook

News in the world of writing is rare. Yes, there's news about new books, news about magazine articles, news about Twitter posts (you know who you are), news about words. But rarely does news about the process of writing, the rules and constructs of writing, happen.

The exception is the annual publishing of the updated AP Stylebook, the frenemy of all writers brought up in the world of journalism and who carry those hard-learned lessons into their other writing worlds ... present company included. I say frenemy because it's both saint and devil.

The saint part is rooted in consistency. If you know me at all, you know I preach that consistent message is key to effective communications. That doesn't mean that just the ideas and concepts are consistent, but also that the capitalization is consistent, the commas are used correctly across publications, bullet points are punctuated, and so on. The AP Stylebook provides a sound basis for establishing an organizational style guide; if you don't have one, start with AP and customize as needed, keeping in mind that it covers just about every scenario you can't imagine (e.g., medevac is an acceptable abbreviation for medical evacuation, especially when referring to the aircraft used). Why reinvent the wheel when you can't anticipate all the spokes you'll need?

However, once a year it turns devil. Each spring, changes to the AP Stylebook are trickled out in news stories for a few months before its publication in, let's say, June (this year's gets published June 10.) Invariably, several "rules" we learned as journalists get changed upon its publication, and we writers get aggravated because now something that we've learned to do in our sleep must change.

Take the "percent" rule. In narrative, you write, "Of everyone surveyed, 5 percent of the respondents hated the AP Stylebook." Not any more. Now you'll write, "Of everyone surveyed, 95% of the respondents want to strangle the decision-makers at AP Stylebook." Note the percent vs. % change. And the spacing.

A few weeks ago, I completed the second and final edit of a 20-page, statistic-heavy, to-be-published report for a nonprofit. I changed everything to the "5 percent" format. Now what do I do? Yank it off the press and have it all revised?

Luckily, the nonprofit has a style guide that has it as "5 percent." So even when AP changes its mind, the published document will comply with in the nonprofit's predetermined style.

However, from June 10 on, all press releases I do for my clients probably will need to be in the "95%" format. Hope I remember...


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