Writing Tips: 14 AP Style Essentials to Level-Up Your Blogging

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14 AP Style Writing Tips for Freelancers

Finding and dusting off my tattered, circa 1990 AP Stylebook was the first smart thing I did when I took the plunge into blog writing. I needed a crash crash course on writing tips to get back in the game.

I have a journalism degree and news writing experience, but had given up that career in the early 2000s to run the family farm.

My writing skills were rusty. I had traded in my reporter’s notebook for seed sowing, lettuce planting and tractor driving.

And it had been a while since I devoted a lot of brain power to writing tips and style to create great content.

But I knew, though it had been a long time since I had written for a living, as long as I had my AP Stylebook it would be okay.

When I made my way back to journalism and started freelancing, the writing tips I gleaned from the AP Stylebook reminded me this resource can help you a lot.

Ready to level up your blog posts, engage readers, and keep your clients coming back for more?

Check out these writing tips from the AP Stylebook.

Writing is like learning to ride a bicycle

You might get rusty, but you never forget. When I got back into journalism, I needed a writing tips tune-up and my AP Stylebook was my ‘learner’s manual.’

What I hadn’t realized was it would also make my blog-writing skills more marketable for paying clients.

For good reason, the AP Stylebook is called the:

“Journalist’s Bible.”

It is a 600-plus page handbook of commonly-accepted written language and grammar rules for working journalists, and it’s packed with writing tips…

Plus, factual information on modern subjects many writers stumble across in their daily work, like:

  • Wondering when it’s who versus whom?
  • Whether you should use ax or ax(e)?
  • How to properly format a quote?
  • Why Kitty Litter should be capitalized?
  • What an adjustable-rate mortgage is?

The AP Stylebook covers it all, and then some.

But as I started flexing my writing muscles again, I discovered my AP Stylebook was my secret ticket to better blog clients.

  • The vast majority of blog readers are used to reading daily news and journalists follow the AP Style rules.
  • Writing blog posts using AP Style rules readers are already familiar with (even if they don’t know it) equals better performing posts and happy clients.

My AP Stylebook quickly became my favorite tool for writing tips and fine-tuning my blog posts into the ultimate goal—people read them!

Here are my top AP Style writing tips…

1. Acronyms on first reference…yeah or nay? 

Only use first-reference acronyms readers will commonly know.

The CIA, FDA and IRS are okay, but not NSA, the National Security Agency.

Not sure if the acronym you’re using is common enough?

No problem, look it up in your AP Stylebook. If you can’t find it, that means write it out.

2. Create authority with attribution 

Many blog posts don’t offer any attribution (or provide sources) to back up their claims.

  • Check with your client first. Attribution is a powerful tool for turning a blog post from a casual conversation to a trust-worthy and authoritative source of information.

3. Capitalization quirks

There’s plenty to be said about capitalization and the AP Stylebook has all the quick and dirty guides, including:

  • Proper names
  • Nouns
  • Titles

Plus, a few that throw writers for a loop, like popular names…

It’s the South Side (of Chicago) not the south side (of Chicago).

4. Clichés are for the birds

I love a well-turned cliché as much as the next writer, but as the AP Stylebook says:

“Clichés are the junk food of the literary pantry, much loved by lazy writers.”

Ouch. That hurts a little. But the point is well made.

Writing tips: Watch your clichés, or you might turn into one.

5. Colloquialism ain’t gonna work every time

For blog and copywriters’ colloquialisms like “gonna” have their place in casual, voice-of-the-reader writing.

But, there’s a fine line between connecting with your reader and coming off as illiterate.

Plus, many colloquialisms like “ain’t,” are pejoratives and can turn into confusing sentence structure.

  • It’s easy to use colloquialisms too aggressively or as a lazy answer for a casual voice.
  • If the writing is so annoyingly informal it’s noticeable, the whole point of a casual writing voice has been lost, right?

Writing tips: Grammar rules are meant to be broken, but as the AP Stylebook points out, don’t go getting too cute with colloquialisms.

6. Proper company names for search results

The AP Stylebook reminds us to include the full company name in the story for search results, even if your first reference is the informal name.

Costco is okay for a first reference but somewhere use the full name Costco Wholesale Corp.

Writing tips: If “The” is part of the formal name, use it. Use all-capital-names only when the letters are individually pronounced, like BMW, but not in a word. Ikea, not IKEA.

7. Just stop the comma confusion

The AP Stylebook has a separate punctuation guide including all those head-scratchers like when to use an apostrophe.

But when it comes down to commas (aka the Oxford comma debate), the Stylebook addresses it succinctly:

“If a comma does not make clear what is being said, it should not be there.”  

Enough said.

8. Dastardly dang dashes 

I nearly lost my mind one night trying to figure out:

  • em-dashes (the long one)
  • en-dashes (the short one)
  • hyphens (even shorter ones)

I finally gave up on Google and picked up my AP Stylebook and reminded myself why this wasn’t such a big deal when I was a working journalist.

The Stylebook simplifies the dash dilemma in 3 ways:

  1. The news industry never adopted the en-dash
  2. Use a hyphen as a joiner between compound modifiers (e.g., a small-business owner)
  3. Use the em-dash to set off a series in a phrase and pretty much everything else — including author attribution. 

Stop stressing and wasting time over this, OK?

9. Navigating gender and sexuality with class and readability 

The AP Stylebook has an extensive section on gender and sexuality topics relevant to all writers. It’s worth a comprehensive look.

A few big takeaways and writing tips on these topics include:

  • Gender identify. Don’t presume maleness in your sentence structure with a default he/him/his.
  • Gender neutral. When a person identifies as neither male nor female, avoid using they/them/their…unless essential. Why? It creates reader confusion. Replace with their name instead.

10. Names are easy, most of the time 

On the first reference, use a full name. Whatever the source prefers.

Ahem…if you don’t know you should ask…or at least look it up.

On subsequent references, use only their last name.

Writing tips: If you’re writing about two people with the same last name, use first and last names for all references.

11. Too many numeral exceptions to count 

I think I could spend the entire blog post on AP Style here. Numbers come up a lot in content. And you need a universal way to serve this kind of data to readers.

The writing tips in the AP Style guide do a good job giving you parameters to follow. The big one…

  • Spell out one through nine, but 10 or above use numerals. Except at the beginning of a sentence. Twenty-one of the new products versus Out of 21 new products.

But, there is a long list of exceptions for the one through nine rule, including:

  • Addresses
  • Ages
  • Numeric name designations (B-52 bomber)
  • Dates
  • Years and decades
  • Distances
  • Rank
  • And a bunch of others.

Writing tips: If you’re feeling confused, no worries, the AP Stylebook explains it all. This section of my new AP Stylebook is already well loved!

12. Percent, percentage and percentage points

In casual reference, spell out PERCENT…

He had a zero percent chance. 

Use percentage versus percent when not paired with a number…

The percentage of votes cast is increasing. 

But use the percent symbol when associated with a number…

He had 10% of his work done.

And, when you use a percent at the beginning of a sentence, it should be spelled out, numbers and the percent symbol itself.

Ten percent of his work was done. 

13. Quotations made easy 

If you aren’t a journalism graduate, using expert quotes in a piece can be intimidating and gets messy quick.

Writing tips: The Stylebook has an excellent summary of when to — and when not to —use quotations.

Bottom line…

“Use quotations only if they are the best way to tell the story or convey meaning. Often, paraphrasing is preferable.”

14. Avoid terribly boring titles 

Titles are important, but annoyingly formal, in business-blog writing in particular.

This AP Stylebook rule works well to solve that problem…

  • Lowercase and spell out titles in construction that set them apart.

The chief of police, Tim Jones. Or, Tim Jones, chief of police.

Find an AP Stylebook near you

You can sign up for an online AP Stylebook account—some prefer that so they are always up to date with current revisions—or order a hardcopy.

I got my new version for just $16.99 and prefer the comfort of having a book in hand rather than one more tab open on my beleaguered computer screen.

It’s also fun light reading for writing trivia hounds. For example…

Did you know the S in Harry S. Truman doesn’t stand for anything?

So why is it always written with a period after the initial?

When asked his preference in the early 1960s Truman said, “It makes no difference to me.”

The AP Stylebook ruled it would be written with a period and since then, it has always been Harry S. Truman not Harry S Truman.

The AP Stylebook has spoken.

What writing tips do you need help with? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

Georgie Smith is a freelance agricultural and food writer. She writes content for agricultural businesses, farm-focused food brands and organizations.

Grow Your Writing Income. FreelanceWritersDen.com

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24 comments on “Writing Tips: 14 AP Style Essentials to Level-Up Your Blogging

  1. Cassie Journigan on

    I first became acquainted with the AP Stylebook in 1988, when I began work as a proofreader for an ad agency. It then served me well during a newspaper career. Now it’s my best friend for writing blog posts. Great article. Thank you for bringing up some important reminders.

    Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      I often search for new AP Style guidance. Our language is changing so fast now, Oxford couldn’t even pick a ‘word of the year,’ there were so many, from Blursday on down. I’ll never forget when Internet and Web stopped taking capitals… we all have to stay up on these changes.

      Reply
  2. empish on

    Georgie, what a wonderful post! I enjoyed reading it and realized that I need to dust off my AP style book too. I have taken for granted that I remember the rules but after reading your post I see that I need to review and refresh. Also, glad to know there is an electronic version too.

    Reply
  3. Tanya on

    Thanks for the article, Georgie. I didn’t know that about the en-dashes, and I appreciate the mention of the Oxford comma. I feel as long as I’m using it consistently, I’m good.

    Reply
  4. Jonathan Effemey on

    Thank you for this, very interesting.

    I am English. When I put anything through Grammarly I get phrases back that are clearly American English.

    There are of course differences with spelling, I do see differences in phrases that are used.

    Basically, I either write UK or US English depending on who I am writing for,.

    Reply
  5. Annette Rey on

    Great article. I appreciate the reminder. Thanks for including the info and link for receiving AP updates. I have taken advantage of that. I intend to re-post your article on my site.

    Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Annette —

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

      I’m sorry that you can’t re-post my content on your site, as that would be a copyright violation and is expressly prohibited. Feel free to mention and link to it, though!

      Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      Michelle — MUCH has changed since 1990 in AP Style! Get the online updates. 😉 Remember Website and Internet? For instance. And new words and phrases are coined all the time — so a ’90 guide doesn’t really do ya for everything.

      Reply
  6. Cassie Journigan on

    Thanks for the refresher! Great article. I’ve had several copies of the AP Stylebook over the years, both electronic and hard copy, but as yet don’t have the latest and greatest version. Your guide to AP style usage is a great compilation of the most common errors made by experienced and inexperienced writers alike. Like my trusty dictionary to make sure I’ve got the best word, I don’t come to my writing desk without it.

    Reply
  7. Thomas Coalson on

    Thanks, Carol.

    A great reminder to keep the stylebook handy as I type. Having studied journalism in college like you (albeit 50 years ago), I still want to use the editorial “he/him/his” (which ALSO was understood to mean “she/her/hers”). It was better (and far easier) than getting swimming through “gender” quicksand in search of today’s woke term.

    By the way, for years ‘gender’ was a word only applied in grammar lessons. The word commonly used in its place was “sex,” as in “the male sex,” or “the female sex.” It was a lot easier in the good old days to make what then appeared to be an obvious distinction.

    My how times have changed, eh?

    Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      Only easier for people who buy into a gender binary, and/or the idea that we need to make a point of identifying women as ‘the female sex,’ as if it’s a notable part of why they’re in the news — see my response to Peter. 😉

      Reply
  8. Peter Neilson on

    “… avoid using they/them/their…unless essential. Why? It creates reader confusion. ”

    Yes, the reader has to re-read three times to figure out what additional person was possibly omitted. Plural pronoun for singular person has always bugged me. Any construction that begs your reader to re-read is suspect, except in poetry or humor.

    “… has always been Harry S. Truman not Harry S Truman.”

    The counter-example from the science-fiction realm is Forry Ackerman. “Forrest J (no period) Ackerman” was his preference. His chosen nickname was often “4e”.

    Reply
    • Carol Tice on

      Peter, I came up in the ’70s and was doing they/them from the start. And of course now with the rise of nonbinary and transgender people being out front in our culture, it’s being used more than ever. So we should all get used to it. 😉

      Reply
  9. Karen :-( on

    I’m confused by #14, “Avoid terribly boring titles.” Does AP advocate, for example, “president, Donald Trump,” instead of “President Donald Trump”? Is “Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi” now “speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi,”?

    What about dr., Fauci? pope, Francis? Etc., etc. And what about professional titles after names, such as Ph.D.?

    Please clarify! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Georgie Smith on

      Hi Karen. Yes, it is confusing!
      And this one is less of a rule versus guidance.
      In the case of a sort of common title, like President Donald Trump or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, they would be capitalized. However, what AP stylebook encourages is “Separate a long title from a name by a construction that requires a comma: Omar Robinson, the undersecretary for economic affairs. Or: The undersecretary for economic affairs, Omar Robinson, spoke.”
      The way I think about it is if it’s short, sweet and fairly well known, “Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos” that is okay. But if it is a long drawn out title, lower-case with commas is just more palatable.
      And less, well, boring!
      Hope that helps.

      Reply

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