Issues of Style
Over the years, the Associated Press has become the arbiter of journalistic standards. The Associated Press Stylebook's rules for journalists have become, by common consent, the standard of professionalism in journalism. You need to be aware of the styles and conventions practiced by editors and other working journalists.
Public relations agencies will usually have a copy of the Associated Press Stylebook handy, but you should have your own copy and be familiar with it. You won't be able to memorize every rule (you have better things to do with your imagination) but you should be able to find the rules that apply, when you have questions.
More information on the Associated Press Stylebook is available at www.ap.org/pages/order.html -- that's just for your information, not part of an assignment. Here are some of the Stylebook's rules for the more common concerns you will have as you write:
Dates and times
Abbreviate (some of) the names of months, but not days of the week (except in tabulations). If you're giving a specific date, abbreviate the month if more than five letters. (That is, don't abbreviate March, April, May, June or July.) Never abbreviate the month if used without a date. Surround the year with commas if you're giving the month, date and year otherwise, no commas. Don't use 1st, 2nd, etc. it's Dec. 4, not Dec. 4th.
December 1999 was unusually windy. Monday, Dec. 1, 1999, is a date I'll never forget. November was calm but the trouble started at midnight, Nov. 30.
So what about August? Would you say "His birthday is Aug. 4" or "His birthday is August 4"? Answer this question in a quick email to me -- this is how I'm taking attendance this week.
For hours of the day, use figures and abbreviations as follows. Use colons only to separate hours from minutes if necessary (don't supply :00 minutes). Spell out noon and midnight. Use "o'clock" sparingly I only use it in direct quotes.
The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. but they're coming around 7 p.m. "I'll be there by 7 o'clock," she said.
Don't use the two-character postal abbreviation for states. Never write Richmond, VA or Syracuse, NY or Washington, DC it's Va., and N.Y. and D.C. What is the abbreviation for Illinois? (hint: it's not the postal code, IL).
Abbreviate states unless they're five letters or less. Thus, it's Kan. for Kansas, but Maine for Maine. (The exceptions are Alaska and Hawaii, which are not abbreviated.)
Spelling by the numbers
Should you use figures or spell out the numbers? Here is what the Stylebook has to say about it, culled from entries throughout the usage manual:
1-9 rule: spell out numbers under 10, otherwise use figures, even when it means mixing figures and letters together:
He has 10 kids and four dogs. They had four four-room houses, 10 three-room houses, and 12 10-room houses.
This is the basic rule, but there are some exceptions among the following explanations:
Amendments to the Constitution: 1-9 rule
The 14th Amendment extended First Amendment rights to everyone.
Ages: always use figures:
She is 5 years old but plays with the 7-year-olds.
Betting odds, ratios: use figures with hyphens; you don't need the word, "to" when a ratio is used as an adjective:
3-2 odds, odds of 3-to-2, a 5-4 court decision, the score was 4-3, ratio of 2-to-1, a 2-1 ratio.
Cents: use figures and spell out "cents" under one dollar.
Cigars were only 5 cents. You could get twenty for a dollar. But, on the commodities exchange, cigar shares were priced at $1.01.
Dollars: use figures and the dollar sign; for more than $1 million, use the dollar sign and numerals up to two decimal points.
Tickets are only $6.75. Last year they were only $6. Reaganomics put us $4 trillion in the hole. The parks budget for 2001 is $1.98 million (or, almost $2 million, or just under $2 million, or less than $2 million, depending on the point you're trying to make). Market thresholds click in at price levels of $500, $1,000, and $100,000.
Century: 1-9 rule, the word "century" lowercase
The 20th century has much in common with the ninth century.
Channel: capitalize, with figure:
The weather report on Channel 2.
Dimensions: use figures, and spell out units:
He is 5 feet 6 inches tall... the 5-foot-6 man [or] the 5-foot-6- inch man... we had 5 inches of snow... the 9-by-12 rug... the rug is 9 feet by 12 feet.
Distances: 1-9 rule (see Speeds, below)
Drive six miles north, then head east on Route 1 for 13 miles.
Fractions: spell out amounts less than one, with hyphens. For precise amounts greater than one, use figures. Use decimals where practical. If you use fractions, use hyphens and spaces, unless you have a fraction key:
Two-thirds is more than seven-sixteenths. A two-by-four is actually 1 5-8 inches by 3 5-8 inches. Administer 11/2 teaspoon honey.
Percentages: use figures with the word "percent" and repeat the word if repeating figures:
Use a 1 percent solution. We heard that 2 percent to 5 percent of the cases would never be solved.
Names and titles: use figures as follows:
2nd District Court... 4th Ward... Public School 3... No. 1 choice... DC-10... 747B... Route 1... Room 2
Proportions and recipes: use figures
2 parts powder to 6 parts water.
Sizes: use figures:
She wore a size 9 dress.
Speeds: use figures:
Winds of 5 to 10 miles per hour replaced the calmer 3-mph winds of this morning... He drove five miles at 5 mph... do not exceed 70 miles per hour.
Temperatures: use figures. Note that temperatures get higher, not warmer (It's wrong to say, "The temperatures are cooler here.")
It's 5 degrees above zero. I hate this 5-degree weather.
For more style tips go on to the next page