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Associated Press Style

Summary:

These resources provide an overview of journalistic writing with explanations of the most important and most often used elements of journalism and the Associated Press style. This resource, revised according to The Associated Press Stylebook 2012, offers examples for the general format of AP style. For more information, please consult The Associated Press Stylebook 2012, 47th edition.

Contributors:Christopher Arnold, Tony Cook, Elizabeth Angeli, Joshua M. Paiz
Last Edited: 2013-04-06 07:00:07

Introduction

Associated Press style provides guidelines for news writing. Many newspapers, magazines and public relations offices across the United States use AP style. Although some publications such as the New York Times have developed their own style guidelines, a basic knowledge of AP style is considered essential to those who want to work in print journalism.

This Web page is intended to provide an introduction to AP style and a summary of some AP style rules; however, the Associated Press Stylebook includes more than 5,000 entries – far more than can be covered here. For a complete guide to AP style, writers should consult the most recent edition of the Associated Press Stylebook or visit the AP Stylebook website.

Purpose

The content of newspapers and other mass media is typically the result of many different writers and editors working together. AP style provides consistent guidelines for such publications in terms of grammar, spelling, punctuation and language usage. Some guiding principles behind AP style are:

AP style also aims to avoid stereotypes and unintentionally offensive language.

Common Style Guidelines

The Associated Press Stylebook provides an A-Z guide to issues such as capitalization, abbreviation, punctuation, spelling, numerals and many other questions of language usage. What follows are summaries of some of the most common style rules.

abbreviations and acronyms

Some widely known abbreviations are required in certain situations, while others are acceptable but not required in some contexts. For example, Dr., Gov., Lt. Gov., Mr., Mrs., Rep., the Rev. and Sen. are required before a person’s full name when they occur outside a direct quotation. Please note, that medical and political titles only need to be used on first reference when they appear outside of a direct quote. For courtesy titles, use these on second reference or when specifically requested. Other acronyms and abbreviations are acceptable but not required (i.e. FBI, CIA, GOP). The context should govern such decisions.

As a general rule, though, you should avoid what the Associated Press Stylebook calls “alphabet soup.” Consult the Associated Press Stylebook for specific cases.

addresses

For numbered addresses, always use figures. Abbreviate Ave., Blvd., and St. and directional cues when used with a numbered address. Always spell out other words such as alley, drive and road. If the street name or directional cue is used without a numbered address, it should be capitalized and spelled out. If a street name is a number, spell out First through Ninth and use figures for 10th and higher. Here are some examples of correctly formatted addresses: 101 N. Grant St., Northwestern Avenue, South Ninth Street, 102 S. 10th St., 605 Woodside Drive.

ages

For ages, always use figures. If the age is used as an adjective or as a substitute for a noun, then it should be hyphenated. Don’t use apostrophes when describing an age range. Examples: A 21-year-old student. The student is 21 years old. The girl, 8, has a brother, 11. The contest is for 18-year-olds. He is in his 20s.

books, periodicals, reference works, and other types of compositions

Use quotation marks around the titles of books, songs, television shows, computer games, poems, lectures, speeches and works of art. Examples: Author Porter Shreve read from his new book, “When the White House Was Ours.” They sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the game.

Do not use quotations around the names of magazine, newspapers, the Bible or books that are catalogues of reference materials. Examples: The Washington Post first reported the story. He reads the Bible every morning.

Do not underline or italicize any of the above.

dates, months, years, days of the week

For dates and years, use figures. Do not use st, nd, rd, or th with dates, and use Arabic figures. Always capitalize months. Spell out the month unless it is used with a date. When used with a date, abbreviate only the following months: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec.

Commas are not necessary if only a year and month are given, but commas should be used to set off a year if the date, month and year are given. Use the letter s but not an apostrophe after the figures when expressing decades or centuries. Do, however, use an apostrophe before figures expressing a decade if numerals are left out. Examples: Classes begin Aug. 25. Purdue University was founded May 6, 1869. The semester begins in January. The 1800s. The ’90s.

If you refer to an event that occurred the day prior to when the article will appear, do not use the word yesterday. Instead, use the day of the week. Capitalize days of the week, but do not abbreviate. If an event occurs more than seven days before or after the current date, use the month and a figure.

datelines

Newspapers use datelines when the information for a story is obtained outside the paper’s hometown or general area of service. Datelines appear at the beginning of stories and include the name of the city in all capital letters, usually followed the state or territory in which the city is located. The Associated Press Stylebook lists 30 U.S. cities that do not need to be followed by the name of a state. See states and cities below. Examples:

dimensions

When writing about height, weight or other dimensions, use figures and spell out words such as feet, miles, etc. Examples: She is 5-foot-3. He wrote with a 2-inch pencil.

miles

Use figures for any distances over 10. For any distances below 10, spell out the distance. Examples: My flight covered 1,113 miles. The airport runway is five miles long. 

names

Always use a person’s first and last name the first time they are mentioned in a story. Only use last names on second reference. Do not use courtesy titles such as Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms. unless they are part of a direct quotation or are needed to differentiate between people who have the same last name.

numerals

Never begin a sentence with a figure, except for sentences that begin with a year. Examples: Two hundred freshmen attended. Five actors took the stage. 1776 was an important year.

Use roman numerals to describe wars and to show sequences for people. Examples: World War II, Pope John Paul II, Elizabeth II.

For ordinal numbers, spell out first through ninth and use figures for 10th and above when describing order in time or location. Examples: second base, 10th in a row. Some ordinal numbers, such as those indicating political or geographic order, should use figures in all cases. Examples: 3rd District Court, 9th ward.

For cardinal numbers, consult individual entries in the Associated Press Stylebook. If no usage is specified, spell out numbers below 10 and use figures for numbers 10 and above. Example: The man had five children and 11 grandchildren.

When referring to money, use numerals. For cents or amounts of $1 million or more, spell the words cents, million, billion, trillion etc. Examples: $26.52, $100,200, $8 million, 6 cents.

punctuation

Use a single space after a period.

Do not use commas before a conjunction in a simple series. Example: In art class, they learned that red, yellow and blue are primary colors. His brothers are Tom, Joe, Frank and Pete. However, a comma should be used before the terminal conjunction in a complex series, if part of that series also contains a conjunction. Example: Purdue University's English Department offers doctoral majors in Literature, Second Language Studies, English Language and Linguistics, and Rhetoric and Composition.

Commas and periods go within quotation marks. Example: “I did nothing wrong,” he said. She said, “Let’s go to the Purdue game.”

states and cities

When the name of a state stands alone in a sentence, spell it out. When the name of a city and state are used together, the name of the state should be abbreviated (except for Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah). States should also be abbreviated when used as part of a short-form political affiliation. Examples: He came from Lafayette, Ind. The peace accord was signed in Dayton, Ohio. The wildfire began in California and moved east toward Carson City, Nev.

State abbreviations in AP style differ from the two-letter ZIP code abbreviations. Here is how each state is abbreviated in AP style:

State Abbreviations
Ala. Neb.
Ariz. Nev.
Ark. N.H.
Calif. N.J.
Colo. N.M.
Conn. N.Y.
Del. N.C.
Fla. N.D.
Ga. Okla.
Ill. Ore.
Ind. Pa.
Kan. R.I.
Ky. S.C.
La. S.D.
Md. Tenn.
Mass. Vt.
Mich. Va.
Minn. Wash.
Miss. W.Va.
Mo. Wis.
Mont. Wyo.

AP style does not require the name of a state to accompany the names of the following 30 cities:

Cities Not Requiring State Names
Atlanta Phoenix
Baltimore Pittsburgh
Boston St. Louis
Chicago Salt Lake City
Cincinnati San Antonio
Cleveland San Diego
Dallas San Francisco
Denver Seattle
Detroit Washington
Honolulu
Houston
Indianapolis
Las Vegas
Los Angeles
Miami
Milwaukee
Minneapolis
New Orleans
New York
Oklahoma City
Philadelphia

times

The exact time when an event has occurred or will occur is unnecessary for most stories. Of course, there are occasions when the time of day is important. In such cases, use figures, but spell out noon and midnight. Use a colon to separate hours from minutes, but do not use :00. Examples: 1 p.m., 3:30 a.m.

titles

Generally, capitalize formal titles when they appear before a person’s name, but lowercase titles if they are informal, appear without a person’s name, follow a person’s name or are set off before a name by commas. Also, lowercase adjectives that designate the status of a title. If a title is long, place it after the person’s name, or set it off with commas before the person’s name. Examples: President Bush; President-elect Obama; Sen. Harry Reid; Evan Bayh, a senator from Indiana; the senior senator from Indiana, Dick Lugar; former President George H.W. Bush; Paul Schneider, deputy secretary of homeland security.

technological terms

Here are the correct spelling and capitalization rules for some common technological terms:

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