AP Stylebook: 3 Tips for Writing Better Copy

Posted by Mitchell Communications Group on November 21, 2012

The Associated Press Stylebook (AP Stylebook) has a reputation for being the right-hand man of the public relations professional. It houses the guidelines that PR pros and copywriters use when writing news releases and developing a variety of content for publication. Even the most experienced PR gurus question their knowledge of the AP Stylebook, which brings us to the topic of this post: three of the most frequently asked style questions.


Do I need a comma before the “and” in a series?

This question can be a little tricky, but it is without a doubt the most common question I hear. In a series, AP style states that commas are to be used for separating elements of a sentence, but it is highly important that the comma is not included before the conjunction in a “simple series.”

Correct: A team is built on trust, support and accountability.

Incorrect: A team is built on trust, support, and accountability.

There are two exceptions to this AP Stylebook rule, though. The first is that a comma should be placed in front of the final conjunction in a series that actually requires a conjunction, too. An example of this sort of sentence is, “We ate edamame, a sushi roll, and fried rice and chicken for dinner.”

The second exception is to also use a comma before the final conjunction in a complex series of phrases. An example of this is, “The goals of the organization are to reach more than 10,000 likes on Facebook, to create awareness in specified industries while abiding by company standards, and to grow our employee base by 25 percent.”


How should I refer to anniversaries and annual events?

The answer is simple: avoid using the terms “first anniversary,” “one-year anniversary” and “first annual” altogether.

Correct: The company will be celebrating its anniversary this spring.

Incorrect: The company will be celebrating its first anniversary this spring.

Correct: The company will be hosting its annual retreat in August.

Incorrect: The company will be hosting its first annual retreat in August.

By referring to the occasion as, “the anniversary” or “the annual retreat” you lose the repetitiveness. After the first year of the event has passed, it’s perfectly fine to identify which anniversary or annual event year it is (i.e., third annual, 10-year anniversary).


When do I use cities alone in a sentence?

Only 30 U.S. cities may stand alone in a dateline or on first reference in an article. According to the AP Stylebook, the cities included in the list are:


Las Vegas
Los Angeles
New Orleans
New York
Oklahoma City

Salt Lake City
San Antonio
San Diego
San Francisco
St. Louis

Correct: Originally from Atlanta, John Smith has always been infatuated with the business industry.

Incorrect: Originally from Atlanta, Ga., John Smith has always been infatuated with the business industry.

Including the state with a city that should stand alone is a mistake I see often. Unless you have the Stylebook memorized, it’s quite easy to overlook. It helps to check your AP Stylebook or make a list of the stand-alone cities and keep them at your desk in close reach.

Silly errors can be avoided by keeping your AP Stylebook handy and not being afraid to use it when a feeling of uncertainty overcomes you. When it doubt, get your AP Stylebook out.


Are there common AP style mistakes you encounter on a regular basis? Tell us what they are in the comments below or tweet your responses using the hashtag #mcgblog.