Top four most common AP style mistakes

By Kelly Armstrong

AP Style guide
The Associated Press Stylebook – known to many as the go-to lexicon for professional writing.


In all of my years of editing news articles, press releases and the like, I have noticed an interesting trend with Associated Press style – everyone practically makes the same mistakes. With that said, I wanted to go over the top four AP style mistakes that everyone seems to struggle with at one point in time, regardless of how experienced they are.

  1. State Names – Now this one is relatively new, but ever since the Associated Press changed how they handle state names, I have almost always had to go back to double-check state names for consistency and style. According to the 2015 edition of the AP Stylebook, you spell out the names in the body of the story (for example, Springfield, Massachusetts). However, you don’t need to reference it every time, particularly if it is already in your dateline. But that’s not all. When it comes to datelines, you need to abbreviate the state name (unless your state is one of the eight that doesn’t) and the abbreviations can differ from the two-letter state abbreviation we see on letters and the like. To say the least, this is a rule that takes a lot of getting used to.
  1. Addresses – This one I saw a lot more of when I worked for newspapers, and is important in Public Relations as well (especially on time sensitive things like media alerts). According to the 2015 edition of the AP style book, if you are just naming the street name itself, then you spell it out in its entirety (“Go to Pennsylvania Avenue” is a good example of this). However, if you are writing a numbered address, you abbreviate words like “avenue”, “street”, and “boulevard” (“Go to 100 Pennsylvania Ave.” would be an example of this case). The only exception to this kind of abbreviation is if the street in question ends with “road”, “circle”, “alley”, etc.; In this case, you spell it out fully (240 Sunset Circle, for example). Although this one seems simple, many would be surprised at how confusing it gets, especially if there is more than one address or street involved in the content you are writing.
  1. Numbers – Finally, we have numbers. Although easy to get at first, like the other two on this list, they can get confusing if you have to reference several at once. The rule of thumb for most numbers is: If it is under nine, spell it out. Once you hit 10, you write it out numerically. However, this rule changes in reference to academic course numbers and street addresses. In those cases, everything is numerical (“6 Canterbury Lane” and “Global History 2” are two examples of this). This is the same for ages as well. Always write ages numerically unless they are at the start of the sentence (“Sara, a 5-year-old girl” and “Five-year-old Sara” make a good example of the workings of this rule).
  1. Months of the year – This one even plagues me to this day. Getting months of the year can be tough. For starters, you capitalize all months of the year, regardless of where they are (“October is my favorite month” is an example of this in action). When you are citing a month and a year, write out the month in its entirety and do not include any commas or colons (“December 2015 was a particularly cold month” for example). When a month is used with a specific day, you may have to abbreviate the month in question, however this abbreviation only applies to months that are more than five letters, so be sure to only abbreviate January, February, August, September, October, November and December.

This small list is only scratching the surface of all the intricacies of AP Style. If you would like to learn some more common mistakes though, here is a quick reference guide to AP Style. I also recommend keeping up with #APStyleChat on Twitter, which not only serves as a Q&A for all of your AP style needs but also leads to other interesting articles on AP style. You can also always find a copy of the AP style book on sale at AP’s website.

This post was authored by Kelly Armstrong. Kelly Armstrong is PRowl Public Relations’ Director of Finance.

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