AP Stylebook: An Overview

24 12 2012

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, usually called the AP Stylebook, is a style and usage guide used by newspapers and in the news industry in the United States. The book is updated annually by Associated Press editors, usually in June.

Reporters, editors and others use the AP Stylebook as a guide for grammar, punctuation and principles and practices of reporting. Although some publications use a different style guide, the AP Stylebook is considered a newspaper industry standard and is also used by broadcasters, magazines and public relations firms. It includes an A-to-Z listing of guides to capitalization, abbreviation, spelling, numerals and usage.

Example: If the title of governor is used before a name, it should be capitalized and abbreviated e.g. Gov. Janet Napolitano, but when it’s used generically by itself or after the name it should be lowercase and not abbreviated.

The stylebook is organized into sections:

Business Guidelines

A reference section for reporters covering business and financial news including general knowledge of accounting, bankruptcy, mergers and international bureaus. For instance, it includes explanations of five different chapters of bankruptcy.

Sports Guidelines and Style

Includes terminology, statistics, organization rules and guidelines commonly referenced by sports reporters. Example: The correct way to spell and use basketball terminology e.g. half-court pass, field goal and goaltending.

Guide to Punctuation

A specific guide on how to use punctuation in journalistic materials, this section includes rules regarding hyphens, commas, parentheses and quotations.Example: In a series use commas to separate items but no comma before a conjunction. e.g. We bought eggs, milk and cheese at the store.

Briefing on Media Law

An overview of legal issues and ethical expectations for those working in the journalism industry. Example: The difference between slander and libel. Slander is spoken; libel is written, to start with.

Photo Captions

The simple formula of what to include when writing a photo cutline.

Editing Marks

A key with editing symbols to assist the journalist with the proofreading process. Example: When a word is circled it means that the word should be abbreviated, or that an abbreviation should be unabbreviated.


This provides second reference materials for information not included in the book. Example: Use Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, Wiley, Hoboken, N.J. as first reference after the AP Stylebook for spelling, style, usage and foreign geographic names.

For many years the AP Stylebook was titled The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual.  In 2000, the guide was renamed The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. In recent years, the title used on the cover has been simplified to The Associated Press Stylebook.

Associated Press also offers subscription-based electronic versions of the stylebook, which are updated with style changes as they are made and support the addition of local style entries. An individual online subscription is available for $25 to general customers and through college bookstores. Subscriptions for existing AP members are available for $15. The online subscription contains additional features, including the option to create notes on an AP listing and several ways to search for an AP entry. There are also site license discounts available to AP members when buying online subscriptions in bulk from 10 to 50,000 copies. A specific guide on how to use punctuation in journalistic materials, this section includes rules regarding hyphens, commas, parentheses and quotations. The AP Stylebook is also available as an iPhone app costing $28.99 annually per individual subscribers. When purchased from the AP website the book costs $11.75 for AP members or customers with a college bookstore code. For general customers the book costs $18.95.

The AP Stylebook in its modern form started in 1953. The 1953 publication focused on “where the wire set a specific style”; for nearly a quarter century it assumed its reader had a “solid grounding in language and a good reference library” and thus omitted any guidelines in those broader areas. In 1977, prompted by AP Executive News Editor Louis Boccardi‘s request for “more of a reference work,” the organization started expanding the book. That year’s book was produced jointly with competitor United Press International. In 1989, Norm Goldstein became the AP Stylebook editor, a job he held until the 2007 edition. After the publication of the final edition under his editorship, Goldstein commented on changes:

I think the difference…now is that there is more information available on the Internet, and I’m not sure, and at least our executive editor is not sure, how much of a reference book we ought to be anymore. I think some of our historical background material like on previous hurricanes and earthquakes, that kind of encyclopedic material that’s so easily available on the Internet now, might be cut back.

Associated Press editors Darrell Christian, Sally Jacobsen and David Minthorn edited the 2009 edition, which features an updated listing of U.S. and international company names. This edition also included separate entries for U.S. financial institutions and major oil companies and a quick reference guide that lists the most popular entries and subject matter. Currently the most recent print editions are 2011 and 2012.

While nearly two million copies of the AP Stylebook have been distributed since 1977, today the AP Stylebook is developing an online presence with profiles on social media platforms like Twitter(@APStylebook)  and Facebook.

The stylebook is updated annually by Associated Press editors, usually in June, and at this time edits and new entries may be added. In 2008, 200 new entries were added, including words and phrases like “podcast”, “text messaging”, “social networking” and “high-definition”. The 2009 edition added the entries “Twitter” and “texting”. This is done to keep the stylebook up to date with technological and cultural changes.




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