The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, or AP Stylebook for short, standardizes American communication for the masses and prompts intense watercooler discussions among word nerds like me.

But if you’re not interested in debating the different spellings of email, homepage and website (and don’t even get me started on the Oxford comma), you might be wondering why the AP Stylebook matters to you.


Let’s start with the Associated Press (AP) and its origins.

The Associated Press currently functions as a cooperative 24-hour news agency and wire service but was originally created in 1846 when five daily New York City newspapers pooled their efforts to bring news of the Mexican-American War to the American people. By way of a “pony express route” through Alabama, the AP could deliver battle-related news faster than the U.S. Postal Service. These days you see AP stories pop up in your local newspapers as a way to share national stories.


As a news agency with many reporters, the AP kept a style guide for its writers to keep their grammar consistent across the board, but it wasn’t until 1953 that the first organized book was published for mass consumption. Since then, this living breathing grammar encyclopedia has been updated annually to reflect how language morphs over time. More recently adding terms that come about through technology advancements, the AP Stylebook addresses punctuation, spelling and abbreviations too.

Like most public facing organizations, we follow the AP Stylebook at Lou Hammond Group along with other journalists, magazines, newspapers, public relations agencies. First impressions are always important, but with conversation moving more toward text, it’s vital to make your words – and how you format them – count. Journalists and writers get pitches and press releases in their inbox all the time. You don’t want your painstakingly researched and well-crafted email going straight to the trash folder, do you?


This grammar dictionary keeps us consistent and lends credibility to our writing. Even small mistakes and typos in an article, blog post, press release or social media post affect how readers view your product, outlet or client. If you’re moving too quickly to catch the small mistakes, what’s to say you’re not missing the bigger ones too? Lazy writing leads readers to wonder if the research is only surface level, and not knowing which words to capitalize or hyphenate only casts you as out of touch. Correct formatting keeps you in the game.


Everyone wins when we use clear, concise writing. After all of this background information, why don’t you see what kind of grammar wiz you are and take the quiz below!


  1. With job titles, it’s difficult to know when to capitalize and when to leave it in lowercase. Do you think the job title below is formatted correctly?

Dean Baquet, Executive Editor for the New York Times, has been in his position since May 2014.

If you said, no, you’d be correct! If you said yes, don’t fret – job titles are hard to master. When following AP style, as us PR pros do, you only capitalize the job title if it comes before the person’s name. For instance, you would capitalize his title if you say, “The New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet has held his position since May 2014.” But since the sentence provided has his job title following his name, it should be in lowercase.


  1. You might not think “a” and “an” are tricky, but they can get you if you’re not careful. Should the sentence below use “a” or “an”?

He needs to sign a/an NDA before speaking with the company.

The correct answer is “an” even though the letter “n” is not a vowel. I told you it can be tricky! An easy way to know is to say the sentence aloud in your head. The you say the letter “n” sounds like it starts with a vowel, so you use “an.”


  1. Just as our language evolves constantly, so does AP Style. That’s why they come out updated editions each year. With new and evolving words, formatting must keep up. What do you think plural of “emoji” is?

Believe it or not, emoji is plural and singular – like sheep, fish and deer. You have one emoji and two emoji. The more you know!


  1. I, myself, struggle with state abbreviations all the time. Even though we all think of the postal abbreviations like SC, MN and TX, those don’t always fly when following AP Style. Which is the correct formatting for Pennsylvania in the sentence below?

Philadelphia, Penn./PA/Pennyslvania, was founded in 1682 by William Penn.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is correct. Before 2014, the answer would have been Philadelphia, Penn., but since then that rule has changed, and you should now spell out state names in the body of a story. Datelines, however, will still use the AP Style abbreviations rather than the postal code abbreviations. Only use postal abbreviations when writing out an address or when writing a headline. This rule can get complicated. For the nitty gritty of it, click here.


  1. There are so many different ways to mark the time of day. Between AM, a.m. and am, there is a lot of variability out there, and that’s not even mentioning military time. AP Style had to get specific with this one since we don’t use standard time in the U.S., so see if you can figure out which one is correct.

We will meet tomorrow at 11 AM/a.m./am at the coffee shop around the corner.

The correct answer is a.m. The time should be formatted as 11 a.m. If you are discussing a range of time, you can say 10-11 a.m., but if it includes noon, you’ll need to say 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Since a.m. stands for the Latin phrase “ante meridiem” (meaning before noon), and p.m. stands for “post meridiem” (meaning after noon), don’t write 12 a.m. or p.m. Instead, write noon or midnight.

It might seem daunting to follow all of these minute rules, but with so much other writing to compete with, it’s important to keep your competitive. So just keep writing! You’ll get the hang of it with practice.