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AP Style Rules to Remember for Better Online Writing

June 29, 2016
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Grammar is critical to how smoothly an article reads. While not every reader will be a stickler for grammar, inconsistencies and mistakes can still throw off their ability to understand content.

When writing for the web, whether for journalism or marketing, AP style is the guide to abide by. Following these rules strengthens readability no matter the medium. Below are some explanations of the more confusing AP style rules that typically impact the readability of the writing.

9 of the Most Important AP Style Rules

  1. Rules for Titles of Media

Publications such as journals or newspapers are only capitalized. Anything falling under the category of art, literature and so on have titles in quotations.

Example: The Star Tribune gave “Inside Out” an emotional review.

  1. Rules for Titles of People

Capitalize a title if it goes in front of someone’s name. If the title stands alone, leave it lower case.

Example: Governor Dayton met with the president.

  1. Courtesy Titles Are Not Used in AP Style

Do not use Miss, Mr. or any other courtesy titles. The exception to this is if using those titles will clarify different people with the same last name.

Example: Mr. Shifty stated he was the only executive involved in the embezzling scheme, but Mrs. Shifty testified that Shady and Lawless also took part.

  1. Events to Capitalize

Official events and holidays are capitalized, but seasons never are.

Example: Independence Day followed Pride Weekend during a rainy summer.

  1. Rules About Time

Use a colon to separate hours from minutes unless the time is on the hour. Do not spell out numbers when stating exact times.

Example: 2:52 p.m. 8 a.m.

  1. Numbers in AP Style

Write out numbers smaller than ten unless they accompany a phrase like million or inch.

Example: Three different universities have banded together to analyze over 700 artifacts, which they estimate to be 2 million years old.

  1. Dashes and Hyphens and Many Exceptions

Hyphens string together words and dashes string together sentences, usually. Hyphens keep together words like 9-year-old or self-esteem, but any number of special cases exists. Check the style guide if your hyphen senses start tingling. Dashes are even more mysterious. There is the em dash (—) and the en dash (­–). The em dashes act like parentheses or commas to divide up sentences.

Example: Dr. Neko said the rescued cats had several parasites—the recent weather has been conducive to parasitic growth cycles—and they would not have lasted much longer without her care.

En dashes show ranges, such as 5–4 vote or Minneapolis–Miami flight. Dashes and hyphens have many different uses and every computer seems to format them in a different fashion. Check with your editor about any special rules or formatting they prefer.

  1. Toward, Forward and Similar Words in AP Style

These do not end with an s, nor do any other directions ending in “ward.”

  1. AP Style Drops the Oxford Comma

The Oxford comma is a comma that appears before a conjunction in a list and AP style officially ignores it. However, different publications may choose to break this rule, so use whichever your editor prefers.

With an Oxford comma: His new diet prevents him from eating meat, gluten, and dairy.

Without: His new diet prevents him from eating meat, gluten and dairy.

Keeping consistent with these rules will only help readers. They may not love a piece of content simply because of its impeccable AP Style, but they will appreciate the tidy presentation the AP style rules allow.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons – “Typewriter”

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