When you write, you likely find yourself wrestling with questions. I certainly do, everything from the proper form of abbreviations to the placement of apostrophes. Ideally, you want to get past those questions quickly, so you can focus on the message, not the writing.
Among the tools that helps us answer questions quickly and consistently are stylebooks: those manuals that recommend certain styles or usage. They come in a number of flavors and you may wish to have all of them on hand. But, more importantly, select one and use its recommendations consistently.
This week we look at the Associated Press Stylebook, a useful and frequently-cited reference work for writers.
As the title suggests, it comes from the people at the Associated Press (AP) wireservice, and serves journalists and mass-media writers. By way contrast, the Chicago Manual of Style (to cite another important reference book) serves academics and others who write formally, as well as book writers, editors, and publishers.
The AP Stylebook emphasizes usage of commonly cited names, events, and language. For example, under the listing for assassin, it explains the proper use of three similar concepts: ‘assassin,’ ‘killer,’ and ‘murderer’ (in case you were wondering, the AP book defines an assassin as a politically motivated killer, a killer as anyone who kills with any motive, and a murderer as a killer who has been convicted in a court of law).
Since journalists must contend with the pressure of deadlines, this book is laid out like a dictionary, with the entries in alphabetical order. Each entry is brief and deals with issues that journalists would face in everyday writing.
Many entries provide a standard for capitalization, spelling, use of abbreviations, and other useful information. Rules for grammar can be found under headings such as ‘Possessives’.
Incidentally, many other news organizations, in the U.S. and other countries, have their own style guides. In Canada, for example, there’s the Canadian Press stylebook. So, if you’re writing for a particular wire-service or news organization, check to see if they have their own style guide.
The Associated Press Stylebook comes in two flavors: ‘The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law,’ and ‘The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Law.’ The latter is as readily available as the former. Check your bookstore for details.