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Clarity and consistency are building blocks of great content.
When your writing is crisp, clear, and easy to understand, audiences are more likely to leave your site with a positive impression.
Unfortunately, many brands forego style guides, and choose to wing it instead. This isn’t necessarily a fatal mistake by any means. However, it does often lead to content that looks sloppy.
Without guidelines to enforce consistency, it’s easy to allow your content to become a formatting free-for-all where commas roam free and nothing follows a clear logic. The results leave your blog or website looking the Wild West of basic grammatical conventions.
If this sounds hyperbolic, consider this: newspapers are written to be as effortless to read as possible. Concise writing and consistent style go a long way toward achieving this goal. There’s a reason why your daily paper sounds how it does. It isn’t just a stubborn commitment to rules for their own sake.
Does your content need to be perfect to be effective? Not nearly, no. But, everything you can do to enforce consistency and clarity will help your cause.
If you’d prefer to keep this guide handy in a portable format, you can download the entire thing as a PDF below. This is a good option for reading on tablets, e-readers, or simply keeping on file on your computer.
The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law official style guide of the Associated Press, a not-for-profit news agency that’s been around since 1846. It’s often used by news organizations, magazines, and web publications, but brands often use it to form the basis of their own style guides, too.
The official Associated Press style guide gets updated year to year. Here’s a look at some changes from back in 2016:
Arguably, these changes have led to bloat. Detractors say the guide is excessively detailed, beyond the point of being necessary, or even useful. This author doesn’t disagree with this criticism (hence the creation of this simplified blog post).
If following this specific style is important for your situation, though, consider buying the official version. It’s available in both digital and hard copies.
Associated Press style is generally used by journalists, but they aren’t alone in using it. Here’s a short list of folks who might need to get familiar with it:
A person’s age should always use numerals. When using age as an adjective (using their age to describe an individual), then use hyphens.
Use abbreviations for well-known organizations.
Make sure your writing respects people’s formal titles. Some examples include political and medical titles. Follow these guidelines:
Some American cities are considered well-known enough they don’t need a state abbreviation. This makes sense, since most people know where they’re located. Here’s the full list of U.S. cities that fall under this criteria:
The same goes for the following international cities and country abbreviations:
Every state in the United States has a specific abbreviation. Some of these may not seem obvious. Follow this list to get them right.
Dates and times have a number of formatting considerations.
News articles often start with a dateline indicating the location, month, date, and year a story took place. Include city (and state if necessary in the U.S.).
Spell out numbers one through nine, and use digits for numbers 10 and higher. The following exceptions, however, should always use digits:
Use numerals when referring to a sequence of events or people.
Always use the full word “percent.” The % sign shouldn’t be used. That key might feel neglected, but it’s okay.
Avoid starting sentences with a number, unless referencing a year.
Sizes and dimensions should use numerals and spell out units of measurement. The same goes for distances.
You learned everything you needed to know about punctuation in high school English class, right? Well, maybe or maybe not, but this style has quirks of its own to consider.
Here are some general punctuation guidelines:
In AP style, commas are not included before conjunctions. However, they should be used to separate each item in a list.
Lean toward using periods in abbreviations where applicable.
When proper nouns end in an S, add an apostrophe at the end.
Use their first and last name on first mention. Then, use only their last name on subsequent mentions.
Use hyphens to connect words in compound adjectives.
Here are two points about quotation marks:
There are more tech terms and brand names to consider coming out every day. Here’s a list of some common ones you may encounter.
Your favorite author, director, or musician isn’t likely to write you an angry letter over incorrect style usage when it comes to their art. An editor probably will, though. Here’s how to get it right every time.
Use quotation marks rather than italics. This goes against what likely feels right, and how you’d normally format them, but those are the rules.
Use capitalization but no quotation marks nor italics. This blog post uses italics to highlight examples, so the publication names below have been rendered in normal paragraph text.
Keeping all of this information straight can be a hassle (and this post only covers the majority of the most important elements to consider). Fortunately, there are several tools and plugins on the market that can help. Here are some worth checking out:
Are there any details we missed? Drop a comment below and share with other readers.
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