Don’t Make These 5 AP Style Mistakes

By Sam Cioffi
August 19, 2022

If you work in PR or communications, you’ve probably followed Associated Press (AP) Style in your writing work. The rules may have been drilled into your head by college professors and managers, and you might even own a hard copy of the AP Stylebook.

But no matter how much or how often you write, it can still be difficult to nail down all the specifics. We’ve compiled a list of five common AP Style errors and tricky topics to help you avoid the headaches of a major rewrite for your next work.

1. Numerals

According to the AP Stylebook, numbers one through nine should be spelled out. Anything that is 10 or higher should be written numerically. The only exception is when a number begins a sentence. If this is the case, the number should also be spelled out.

2. Titles

This topic can get confusing, especially when it comes to whether a title should be lowercase or capitalized. Titles for an individual should be lowercase when they are used in a general sense and are not used directly with a name. For example: Jane Smith is the vice president of the company. In this case, vice president does not proceed the name of the individual. However, a title should be capitalized when it is used right before a name. For example: The leader of the meeting was Vice President Jane Smith.

3. Composition Titles

For most titles, including books, songs, albums, and plays, the following rules apply: Capitalize the most important words of a title and any prepositions. Articles such as “the”, “a” and “an” should only be capitalized if it is at the beginning or end of a title. In addition, quotation marks should be put around these titles and works, except for holy books and reference materials.

4. Names

In the media industry, it is usually well known that someone should be referred to by their last name on the second reference and subsequent references. But, it may get complicated when two people have the same last name. If this is the case, use the first and last name of both individuals for references.

Age can also be a factor in the use of names. For those who are 15 years old or younger, typically use a first name on subsequent references. If the story has a more serious tone, the use of the last name might be more appropriate. For people 16 years old or older, it is usually the use of the last name.

5. Oxford Comma

This comma usually sparks debate between groups of AP Style, Chicago Style and other English language users. As you may know, AP Style almost always omits the comma in a series. This first became an established rule when the news was being printed and space needed to be conserved. It was decided that the sentence would still read the same even if the final comma in a list was eliminated.

Those in support of the Oxford comma believe that it is necessary for clarity. In some cases, this can be true. For example, the comma should be used in a list if there is an element in the list that uses a conjunction. In this sentence, I need to pick up eggs, jam, and bread and butter from the store, the phrase “bread and butter” includes an additional conjunction.

But, in general, try to keep the Oxford comma out of a series when using AP Style. And, if you ever get confused, there is no shame in double-checking in your AP Stylebook.

What are other common AP Style mistakes you see, or rules that are toughest for you to remember?