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AP Style Basics

Updated on March 6, 2008

Chicago Manual of Style vs. Associated Press Style

Chicago is the oldest and most comprehensive style guide out there. Since it is so comprehensive, or because it is so comprehensive, it often takes much longer to find what you are looking for. This guide is primarily used for book authors, but because of its comprehensive nature—it’s great for everyone.

AP is shorter and clearer than Chicago. This style guide is primarily for writers who work with newspapers or news magazines.

The differences are that simple. Non-fiction writers should use AP and fiction authors should use Chicago. There are other style guides out there (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers etc.) that are used for specialized writing. In order to avoid confusion you must choose a style guide that most closely fits what you are writing and stick to it. Consistency is the best way to gain the trust of your readership.

AP Style – a few things to pay attention to

a.m., p.m. - Recognize that 8 p.m. tonight is redundant. So, write 8 tonight, or 8 p.m. today. Better still: 8 p.m. Monday.

affect, effect -Ninety-nine times out of 100, if the word you use is a verb, spell it with an "a," and if it is a noun, spell it with an "e." In these two usages, affect means to influence and effect means the result of an action -- and those are by far the most common uses. Examples? Student: How will this affect (try substituting the word "influence") my grade? Teacher: I don't know what the effect (try substituting the word "result") will be.

collective nouns - In the United States, nouns such as team, Congress, committee and group take singular verbs, such as "is." These collective nouns also take the pronoun "it" instead of "they." So, if you're confused about whether a word such as "team" is an "it" or a "they," try making up a sentence using the word followed by "is" or "are." You wouldn't say "The team are playing well." Try this, instead: "The team is playing well. It may win this game." That's correct.

fewer, less - Use fewer for things that you can count. Example: I have fewer quarters than you do. (You can count, "One quarter, two quarters, three quarters.") Use less for things you cannot count. Example: I have less cash than you do. (You don't say, "One cash, two cash, three cash.")

plurals - Note the unusual rule that when you form the plural of a proper noun that ends in a "y," you usually add an "s," as in Kennedys, Grammys, Emmys.

possessives - The main AP exception to Strunk and White's Elements of Style involves forming the possessive of a singular proper noun that ends in "s." AP says merely add an apostrophe. Examples: Otis' cookies, Amos' ice cream, Charles' chips. And here's a reminder of something I'm sure most of you already know: To make something that is singular into a possessive, add 's; to make something plural into a possessive, first make sure it is plural, usually by verifying that it ends in an "s," and then add an apostrophe. Here's a nonsense sentence that illustrates the idea: One dog's bone is worth two dogs' ears.

years - To indicate a decade, add an "s." to the first year in the decade. Example: In the 1960s, I did a lot of things I don't remember. If you abbreviate this, do it this way: In the '60s, I did a lot of . . . Remember that years are never spelled out. Even at the beginning of a sentence, use a figure: 1968 was a good year, I'm told.

More quick tips

Grammar Girl Web site (great site for quick tips on grammar)


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    • profile image

      Sue Martens 5 years ago

      What is the AP stylebook usage of T-boned to describe an accident? I always used "hit broadside" but read "T-boned" in the paper today.

    • profile image

      Andrew 7 years ago

      You know, I feel a bit embarrassed to ask, but I'm just not sure about something. I'm very familiar with AP style and love the consistency it promotes, but my question is if AP and APA are actually the same style? Thank you!

    • profile image

      Andrew 7 years ago

      You know, I feel a bit embarrassed to ask, but I'm just not sure about something. I'm very familiar with AP style and love the consistency it promotes, but my question is if AP and APA are actually the same style? Thank you!

    • profile image

      Vishwajit Vatsa 7 years ago

      It is really very informative and I am waiting for some decent write ups as above.

    • profile image

      ankh 9 years ago

      Concur, use Chicago for anything except newspaper (and, sigh, advertising). Not just fiction, fer sure.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 9 years ago from Northern California

      Ugh, AP style. :P I'm a journalism student now and I'm afraid when I graduate that being a copy editor for the school paper will forever taint my ability to write in the style I used to!

    • profile image

      Rebecca 9 years ago

      Thanks for the clarifications! I am coming from the perspective of someone who writes a lot of non-fiction these days but would not use the AP style. To me, AP is used almost exclusively by newspapers and maybe news magazines (as you said in the original article). Most magazines/journals I read don't appear to use AP--they use terminal commas, spell out numbers, use the extra "s" with possessives, etc. I would think that unless you were writing for a newspaper, you'd be safer sticking with Chicago.

    • zannr profile image

      zannr 9 years ago from Portland

      Thanks for the input. According the the research that I did on various Web sites they did state that "non-fiction writers use AP and fiction authors use Chicago". I was not speaking to the literary journals, but novels. Maybe I needed to clarify that.

      To the second point: point well taken. In a way I think of academic writing as "specialized" because APA is very specific for students in the Psychology or Sociology fields of study (or social sciences as you state) and MLA is specific for students in say English (or liberal arts as you state). Thanks for allowing me to clarify. Maybe I meant specific type of writing, not specialized writing.

    • profile image

      Rebecca 9 years ago

      Very informative, Zannr. I am not sure, however, that it's true that "non-fiction writers should use AP and fiction authors should use Chicago." Most journals have in-house style guides that adhere closer to Chicago's rules than AP's. As you said, AP is used by newspapers.

      Another point: APA and MLA aren't used for "specialized writing" as much as academic writing. APA is used by the social sciences and MLA for the liberal arts.