Quick Guide to AP Style Writing

Quick Guide to AP Style Writing – BOBO Marketing Services

There’s just something special about professional  AP style writing. Your message needs to translate as clear, concise and consistent — and generally easy enough for a fifth grader to follow. So we at BOBO Marketing Services have put together this essential guide to copywriting — easy enough for a fifth grader to understand.


Most of the content creation projects we provide include some level of business-to-consumer, or B2C, copywriting. That means the copy is client facing and included in a number of different marketing collateral. Examples include landing pages, e-newsletters, blog posts and more. If you’ve ever dabbled with the marketing industry, chances are you’ve come across the phrase AP style writing. 


Marketing agencies often require a working knowledge of it.

So what is it? No, it’s not APA or MLA. Those have more to do with citing sources for research papers. Officially called Associated Press Stylebook, AP style was originally published in 1953 for journalists in connection with the Associated Press for consistency in grammar, punctuation, spelling and usage.


Hyphens, En-Dashes & Em-Dashes

Did you know there was a difference? Let’s take a look at the symbols: – – —. See the difference now? To help you remember, an en-dash is the size of an N and an em-dash is the size of an M. A hyphen should never be used unless it’s connecting two words.


As far as when to use all these dashes, you have to take a look at the usage. An en-dash should really just be used for formatting purposes. Think lists! An em-dash can be used in lieu of a semi-colon, to separate two thoughts within the same subject. When used correctly it can help break up wordy text and create visual interest to the piece. For example: These balloons are vibrant like you’ve never seen before — in a fiery red, ocean blue and everest green.


Hyphens are a little tricky. If you’re playing hide-and-seek then you would use hyphens because it’s a noun. But if your kids want to hide and seek, you wouldn’t because these words are being used as verbs. Also, you want to use hyphens as modifiers connecting words that describe a noun … before the noun. Exhibit A: She has a show-stopping smile, especially when walking into a room. Exhibit B: This black-and-white kitchen has the finest high-end appliances.


The Serial Comma

This one’s highly controversial in the business writing world. AP style says one thing, while other writing styles say another. It also doesn’t help that most of us are taught to use it growing up. More professionally referred to as the Oxford comma, the serial comma is when there is a comma included before “and” or “or” in a list or sequence. For example: The balloons are red, blue, and green. AP style hates this. It prefers “red, blue and green” with that final comma omitted.



Spell out numbers less than 10. Everything above 10 can be written in numerals UNLESS at the beginning of a sentence.


If you’re talking about dollars and cents, however, you would use digits. For example, something that costs $5 or $5,000 would always be written this way. Commas should be used to clarify thousands. When you go into millions and billions, you should shorten it to include the words: $1 million, $300 billion. Remember, AP style likes to be concise.


Making Things Plural

The 1990s not 1990’s. Wednesdays not Wednesday’s. Apostrophes mean possession, so when in doubt slap an S and call it a day.



Street names should be spelled out when there’s no street number included. When there is, you should abbreviate St., Ave. and Blvd. For states, spell them out when used alone. When used with city names, we recommend doing a quick Google search for “AP Style States.” You’ll see they’re very different from the postal version we grew up learning. For example: Orlando, Fla., New York, N.Y. and Los Angeles, Calif.


For months the same rules apply. Spell out the name of the month if there isn’t a date included. But only shorten these months: Jan. 1, Feb. 1, Aug. 1, Sept. 1, Oct. 1, Nov. 1 and Dec. 1. For names, you should list John Smith Jr. and John Smith Sr. without a comma.


Hope you enjoyed our AP style cheat sheet — let us know your favorite AP style tips for professional writing!

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