This post is part of our new blog series that will aim to help young professionals land and make the most of their PR agency internships. For the next few weeks, expect to find useful advice and first-hand experiences from our bloggers and very own whiz-bang team of interns.
The one and only college class I ever got a “C” in was AP Style Writing. I remember how my professor would copy each of our weekly news stories onto transparency sheets, projecting the mess of red lines, question marks and “Boring!” comments for the whole class to see. He’d walk through all the flaws, each mistake dropping our grade by ten percent. It truly was painful to watch your “B” go to a “D” in a matter of a missed hyphen, uppercased title and abbreviated five-letter state, especially in front of your friends you just tailgated with the weekend prior.
As painful as it was, AP Style Writing was the most important class I took in college. Sure, PR Research was great and it was interesting to learn about Media Law, but writing is the core of what we professional PR people do every single day. Mastering the art of writing is critical to our job. And since our target audience, the media, follow the “Bible” of guidelines, it is our job to follow suit. We want to write in their language, and make it easy for them to use our words and content.
Our interns at Weber Shandwick Seattle have a lot on their plate. Between research, coordination and just learning the business, it can be a handful at times. We also encourage our interns to write, and write as much as possible. Knowing the basics of AP Style is key to success. Having the skills to write a professional and concise pitch, press release or simple email will put you miles ahead in our industry.
Every year, The Associated Press publishes a new Stylebook. Often, new terms are added…but every once in awhile, old ways of writing words and phrases changes, and it’s important to stay on top of these. In fact, 2011 was a big year for the Stylebook. The following key words changed and a few were added:
- E-mail is now email
- Web site is now website
- Twitter, Tweet and app were added
- But Web and Web page are still the same
It’s clear that as technology advances, new words become part of our everyday speech. However, there are those tried and true rules that haven’t changed for years, and are equally important to master. Take a look at the commonly used rules below:
- Numbers: One through nine are spelled out, while 10 and above are generally written as numerals.
Example: He carried five books for 12 blocks.
- Time: Use numerals except for noon and midnight. Use colon to separate hours from minutes.
Example: 11 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 9-11 p.m., 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Percentages: Percentages are always expressed as numerals, followed by the word “percent.”
Example: The price of gas rose 5 percent.
- Ages: Ages are always expressed as numerals.
Example: He is 5 years old. The 5-year-old neighbor boy.
- Dates: Dates are expressed as numerals. The months August through February are abbreviated when used with numbered dates. March through July are never abbreviated. Months without dates are not abbreviated. “Th” is not used.
Example: The meeting is on Oct. 15. She was born on July 12. I love the weather in November.
- Dollar Amounts: Dollar amounts are always expressed as numerals, and the “$” sign is used.
Example: $5, $15, $150, $150,000, $15 million, $15 billion, $15.5 billion
- Street Addresses: Numerals are used for numbered addresses. Street, Avenue and Boulevard are abbreviated when used with a numbered address, but otherwise are spelled out. Route and Road are never abbreviated.
Example: He lives at 123 Main St. His house is on Main Street. Her house in on 234 Elm Road.
- Job Titles: Job titles are generally capitalized when they appear before a person’s name, but lowercase after the name.
Example: President George Bush. George Bush is the president of the United States.
- States: Spell out states when standing alone; abbreviate when after a city (except for Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah).
Example: Wash., Calif., N.Y., Fla., Ore.
Place a comma between the city and the state name, and another after the state name.
Example: He was traveling from Nashville, Tenn., to Austin, Texas, to see his parents.
Fortunately, we don’t have to memorize all these rules. I encourage everyone in PR to keep a copy of a recent AP Stylebook within arm’s reach (you can buy one on Amazon.com here). And for you students embarking into the workforce, keep yourself updated on the basics. I guarantee you’ll use that knowledge nearly every day of your career. And keep in mind, most PR firms ask you to complete a writing test as part of your interview process, including an AP Style mastery quiz and press release example. But don’t worry, they probably won’t project your test for the whole office to see. Your days of red ink embarrassment are behind you…maybe.
Photo courtesy of danisabella.