The Associated Press Style Book calls itself “The Bible of the Newspaper Industry.” However, AP Stylebook is the ultimate writing resource for more than just newspapers. Hundreds of businesses and publications ranging from traditional newspapers to online publishers, distributors of newsletters, marketing brochures, and public relations department materials trust AP Stylebook to arbitrate any number of grammar, spelling, or punctuation issues that may arise in the rapidly changing world in which we live. While the dictionary falls further and further behind, the AP Stylebook continues to dominate much of the writing universe.

When organizations, large or small, want clear, precise writing, they demand “AP-style writing” from writers. However, AP Style is not a defined structure like the MLA style, nor is it a preset layout for publication like the MLA format. Rather, the Associated Press Style Guide is a multi-part guide aimed at professional writers writing for publications that simply cannot always be expected to conform to the construction of a specific article.

As such, it contains no rules for how something should be written or structured. Rather, the largest section of the AP Style Guide just lists numerous words and phrases that are commonly used in today’s writing, but are not authoritatively found in the usual places, such as dictionaries. Some of the most common entries are the names of geographic locations or regions, technology terms, important people and positions, and phrases and terminology from pop culture.

For example, although the word potato is defined in most dictionaries, those resources are often silent on how the word should or should not be capitalized in certain contexts. When referring to the office or title without attaching the name of a specific pope, the word should not be capitalized, but when referring to a specific pope by name and title, then the word is capitalized as in Pope John Paul II.

Other sections are much smaller and include a punctuation guide, a quick primer on media law topics, formatting for a bibliography, and filing a new cable story.

Those looking for a type of writing or guidance on things like whether or not to use first person or how to handle gender-neutral writing will be disappointed. Issues of this nature are not addressed in the Associated Press style guide.

Therefore, competent writers who are already proficient in grammar and spelling can be considered fully capable of writing in AP Style and would be correct to present themselves as such to potential employers or managers who request the ability to write in AP Style. In the end, AP style is, for most writers, nothing more than looking for how to deal with certain words or phrases when they come across ones that aren’t well defined elsewhere but require a consensus on how to treat them. For the freelance writer, The Associated Press Stylebook is just another reference book like the dictionary.

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