Nancy Edmonds Hanson, APR
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Mass Communications 307
Public Relations Processes

AP Style Tips for PR Writers

Public relations writers use standard media style — that is, Associated Press style — for communicating with the news media. A solid grasp of AP style not only adds credibility to your work in the eyes of media editors and reporters; it also prevents excessive editing when the work is prepared or rewritten for publication or broadcast. (It also minimizes the likelihood of errors being introduced during the editing process.)

Use inverted pyramid style in organizing news releases. Begin with who, what, where and when in the first one or two paragraphs, then add details in subsequent paragraphs.

News releases and other materials for the media always use third-person voice — that is, he, she and they. Reserve first person (I, we) and second person (direct address, you) for direct quotations.

News releases are always headed by a newspaper-style headline including a subject and a verb:
    Heart Association Plans Valentine's Gala
    NOT: Valentine's Gala for Heart Association


bulletCapitalize formal titles before names. (Don’t capitalize job descriptions.)

bulletNever capitalize title when used alone, without a proper name. 
    NOT The President said BUT Today President Clinton said.

bulletNever capitalize a title used after the person’s name.

bulletDon’t use "Dr.," "Professor," etc., on second reference. Usage rule is the same as with courtesy titles (see below).

bulletAcademic degrees are capitalized when spelled out in full, but lower case in informal references. No major areas of study are capitalized except for those containing national names.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mass communications and English.

He has a master's degree in information technology. 

Courtesy titles
(Courtesy titles include Mr., Mrs., Miss and Ms.)

bulletGenerally not used on second reference — and NEVER on first reference. Some newspapers and magazines have gone back to using these titles in the interest of civility. They also are often included in specific organizational stylebooks. Check whether either of these exceptions applies.

bulletAfter being introduced by their full names in a story, men and women are generally called by their last names for the remainder of the article. Children (under age 16) are usually referred to by their first names. Note, however, that this is subject to customary usage within organizations and some news media.

bulletAdults are sometimes called by their first names on second reference in features and in internal publications ... emphasizing the friendlier, up-close tone of these stories and publications. Review customary usage! 

bulletNote that calling adults by their first names can be viewed as condescending or mildly derogatory. Consistency helps you avoid this pitfall; in other words, if some people are called by first names in a story or publication, all should be treated alike.


When to Abbreviate, When to Abstain ...

State Names

bulletSpell out state names when they stand alone (without city names).

bulletAbbreviate state names only when used with a city. Use the classic abbreviations instead of two-letter postal codes.
    Bismarck, N.D.    NOT Bismarck, ND
bulletSpell out the full state name when it's part of a proper name:
    Professional Photographers of North Dakota; North Dakota 
        Department of Transportation
    NOT Professional Photographers of ND;  N.D. Department of 

bullet Those two-letter postal-code abbreviations of state names (ND, MN, AZ, CA) are considered an abomination when they're used within text. Use them only in addresses. This is a seemingly minor point that drives many newspaper copy editors over the edge!

Street addresses

bulletSpell out street names in full when used alone.
   The parade will begin on First Avenue North.
bulletAbbreviate when house number is part of address.
   The company is headquartered at 333 First Ave. S.
bulletSpell out numbered streets from First through Ninth. 
Use numerals for higher numbers: 
     13th Avenue, 41st Street, 103rd Street


bulletSpell out month names when used alone.
bulletAbbreviate most month names when used with date.
bulletMonth and year: Standard usage is [January 2001], not [January of 2001]
bulletDon’t use year for current dates. 
    This class concludes in May. (not May 2001)
bulletThe media rarely use both the day of the week and the date of an upcoming event. The day of the week is usually considered adequate by itself. 
     [NOT "Thursday, Jan. 18." Instead, just "Thursday."]
But this usage is considered acceptable in news releases and PSAs, since it clarifies the time element in material that may be distributed several weeks before an event.


bulletSimplest form is best. "O'clock" is out of favor.
   10 a.m. (NOT "10:00 a.m." or "10 o'clock")
bulletUse “noon” and “midnight” instead of “12 p.m.” and “12 a.m.”



bulletRule of 10: Generally use numerals for 10 and up; spell out single digits. For thousands and millions, use a combination for easy readability:
     $50 thousand .... $100 million ... population of 281 million people

bulletExceptions: Always use numerals exclusively for ...
    Ages (Adding "years" is unnecessary.)
    Money (Use $ instead of "dollars," but spell out "cents.)
    Dates (Jan. 1, NOT Jan. 1st)
    Percentages (but spell out "percent," instead of "%")
    Sports scores and votes
    Certain political/military usages: 7th District, 2nd Battalion

Exceptions to the use of AP style

Some publications and organizations develop their own institutional style. Time magazine, for example, capitalizes far more often than any other news medium. If you were writing a story for Time, the most professional approach would be to use its hypercapitalized style. Almost all newspapers, however, go by the Associated Press rules.

Organizational style is more problematic. While some companies and agencies have their own traditional exceptions to standard AP usage, their usage is only appropriate in controlled communication projects (newsletters and brochures, for example). When dealing with the media, use media style — not internal style.

The most common examples of this kind of non-standard usage center around titles and department names. Internal corporate communications are often capital-happy. Titles are capitalized in a misguided attempt to make the positions seem more important. Some Companies Seem To Capitalize Everything That They Think Others Should Consider Serious, Substantial or Impressive. But the practice doesn't work. Instead, it makes their communications seem pompous and self-important.

Use this style if you must in internal channels. But please, please don't use it in communicating with media professionals. It absolutely brands you as an amateur.


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This page was last edited on 10/12/06 by Nancy E. Hanson.