Tag Archives: AP Stylebook

Wild and Wacky AP Style

I’m developing a new course for the University of Richmond (Va.) School of Continuing Studies I’m calling AP Style for Business Writers because I’ve met many clients who claim to use it as their in-house writing style — except when they don’t.

I’ve never understood why corporate America glommed on to AP. It’s for news journalists. How many office workers need to know proper capitalization of Osama bin Laden (who, by the way, dropped out of the Stylebook somewhere between 2011 and 2013)?

The Stylebook devotes only 10 pages to all punctuation matters, whereas my old 6th edition of The Gregg Reference Manual (my preferred writing guide, back in the day) devoted 26 pages to commas alone.

The Stylebook is in alphabetical order, which means you must look up every stinking prefix (non-, dis-, un-) to find out which ones need hyphens.

So, preparing this class, I’ve had to read 300+ pages of the current Stylebook and compare them to the 2011 edition (I skipped 2012 — life’s too short) to ferret out any updates because AP willfully REFUSES to flag them.

Here’s one change for you: They dropped the hyphen from moped.

In the process, I have compiled and usefully organized the material that’s pertinent to business writers, and it fits in to 22 pages of handouts. Yup, that fat Stylebook is 99.8% irrelevant.

Here are a few points I uncovered that you might find interesting:

  • Never, under any circumstances, abbreviate department as dept.
  • Never use abbreviations for state names with five or fewer letters EXCEPT Alaska Hawaii (because they’re unattached to the U.S.) or the District of Columbia.
  • Never use italics. For anything. Ever.
  • Ditto for asterisks * and brackets [ ].
  • Lists of items should begin with dashes, never with any of Word’s bullet characters.
  • Every item in a list should end with a period, even if it’s a single word.
  • Parentheses used within a sentence are a sign the sentence has a problem. (Do mine?)
  • It’s not “Merry Christmas,” but “merry Christmas.”

I’m eager to have my first class because it’s bound to attract AP pros who want a refresher — and are possibly hoping for spirited debate.

I think everyone’s soon going to realize that the denizens of corporate America don’t embrace AP style with the fervor they think they do.

OK, I can’t resist. One more:

You’re not supposed to write, The meeting is on Tuesday, but, The meeting is Tuesday.

Well, two more:

And don’t write, We met last Wednesday. Make it, We met Wednesday.

The past-tense verb is supposed to clue the reader in to which Wednesday you mean.

The same goes for next Wednesday. If you write, We will meet Wednesday, you clearly mean next week (if it’s already Thursday).

I uncovered those relatively obscure nuggets for expressing dates under the entry for “on.”

Oh, this is going to be a fun class.

Capitalization: An Overused Way to Show Respect

Many businesses embrace the AP Stylebook as their writing guide, but the relationship often breaks down over capitalization. AP is firmly minimalist, where corporate America believes you can’t have enough of a good uppercase thing.

Years ago, I worked for a mortgage company whose voluminous customer correspondence capped every word related to the business, such as Mortgage, Deed, Escrow, and many others. The letters looked downright biblical.

Many companies deify their buildings, such as Headquarters, the Home Office, and the Midwest Branch. But where does that leave the warehouse?

And when it comes to people, it’s Caps Gone Wild. AP says no caps on job titles used without a name or following a name (John Smith, manager of operations), including the president of the United States.

But business writers cap them all: the President, the Board of Directors, the Rapid Response Team, the Christmas Party Committee.

When forced to reason why, they usually come up with, “To show respect.”

Well, no, no it doesn’t. Instead, it creates a silly slippery slope that leaves anybody in lowercase feeling slighted or undervalued.

Rampant capitalization can actually sabotage your message. Readers think capped words have more importance because you drew attention to them, so it’s easy to emphasize the wrong things.

For example, the target audience may fail to feel the love from this heartfelt statement you might find in a corporate brochure or website copy:

The customer is the primary focus of every Teammate in our Company.

What comes through to me is a self-centered organization paying lip service to customer service.

(On a side note, yes, companies will devise capitalized euphemisms for their workers because “employee” has somehow become a four-letter word. They think it’s a way to show respect. But that’s another post.)

Here are other examples:

Our Goal for our Products and Services is total customer satisfaction.

The Board of Directors at its Annual Meeting took comments from shareholders.

Companies who rely on caps to pump themselves up become the boorish windbag everybody avoids at the party. In addition, they convey grammatical ineptitude.

So what do you do? AP and common sense generally dictate lowercase on all words except:

  • proper names and places
  • trademarked product names
  • job titles immediately preceding a person’s name (Director of Marketing Mary Jones, President Thomas Jefferson)

It requires no guesswork, it’s easy to remember, and your Shift keys will thank you for the much-needed rest.