As a journalism major who grew up to be a reporter, editor, publisher and public relations professional, I can safely say a lot of things have changed over the years. The manual typewriter, the IBM Selectric, the fax machine came and virtually went, the “car” phone, the VCR, ah, the old 8-track tape and later the cassette.
But one thing that has remained constant is the reliance on the AP Stylebook. While rules may change, allegiance to the rules remains entrenched. Or should.
For those of you not involved in publishing the written word in any form, AP Style provides the final word on things like the proper capitalization of titles, academic degrees, word usage … like these recent tips from their Facebook Fan Page:
- Put quotation marks around names of book titles: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Also, capitalize key words from book and movie titles, including prepositions of four or more letters: “The Girl Who Played With Fire.”
- It’s free agent when used as a noun: LeBron James is a free agent. It’s free-agent when used as an adjective: The free-agent period began July 1.
- Temperatures: Use figures for all except zero. The temperature hit 101 after rising 9 degrees since late morning. Also, temperatures get higher or lower, but they don’t get warmer or cooler.
- Capitalize a military rank when it’s used as a title before a name: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Otherwise, lowercase the rank.
- My personal “favorite” that is perhaps the most violated: Use ‘more than’ instead of ‘over’ UNLESS something is physically over an object: More than 300 served.
You get the idea.
While these may seem “nerdy details,” they provide a consistency that is essential when editing and publishing materials. There is nothing that looks more unprofessional than a publication in which there are inconsistencies in style.
The AP Stylebook has come a long way since 1953 when it sported 62 pages. The recently released 2010 version has more than 450 pages and is also available as a Web-based, online guide. I find the “Ask the Editor” feature that provides answers, clarification and guidance on style issues that go beyond the pages of the AP Stylebook very beneficial. The official Twitter account for the AP Stylebook, http://twitter.com/APStylebook, has more than 44,000 followers and YES there’s an “App” for that. For $24.99, you can download the AP Stylebook App onto your iPhone.
You don’t have to be a reporter or PR pro to put the AP Stylebook to use. If you find yourself drafting press releases for your company, organization or club, using these guidelines will only help clarify your message … especially as more press releases are run verbatim by news organizations (like the IndyStar.com’s “News from You” feature).
If you REALLY want to get hardcore, you pair up the AP Stylebook with E.B. White’s “Elements of Style” for beautifully written copy. I know. Baby steps.
Or (a shameless plug), simply give Pickett & Associates a shout, and we’ll make sure your release is AP perfect and distributed to the media outlets that will maximize your message.
Happy Tuesday to you all on a hazy morning in the Windy City.