10 ‘spring cleaning’ AP style tips

Some might use this time of the year to air out their houses, but we suggest embracing the spirit of deep cleaning by brushing up on these writing rules.

Many are rejoicing online (and through open windows) that spring is finally here—as of 6:29 a.m. EDT.

With springtime comes spring cleaning—but for communicators looking to sharpen their writing skills and tighten their copy, the dusting you’ll do is inside the pages of the AP Stylebook.

Here are 10 AP style rules to commit to memory when writing your next press release or creating content for your organization’s blog:

1. Remember, we’re saving time. We moved our clocks forward an hour on March 12 for Daylight Saving Time. Note that it’s not the plural “savings time”:

Though there is no known penalty for getting this wrong, those in the know might mock you:

2. Properly cite April Fools’ Day jokes. First off, it’s not the singular April Fool’s Day; there are plenty of patsies, stooges and chumps. If you’re planning hijinks for April Fools’ Day—or writing a guide to pull off the perfect office prank—make sure to use “sneaked” as the past tense of “sneak”:

3. Clean up your dates. Abbreviate the following months when using it with a date:

(Yes, we know: Twitter does not observe this guideline in its time stamps.)

The same rule does not apply when you’re using a month alone, or with a year. AP Stylebook then advises to spell out each month:

4. Prepare your brackets. In March, many people go “mad” filling out their brackets for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s tournament. In all uses, uppercase “March Madness”:

You should still capitalize it if your bracket is a marketing ploy, such as Walt Disney World Resort’s bracket for visitors’ favorite attraction. TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” created a “March Maddress” bracket, but capitalized its play on the word.

5. It’s “gambling,” not “gaming.” If you put money into your office’s March Madness pool, you’re gambling, not playing a game.

6. Colon capitalization . Speaking of capitalization, you should capitalize the word after a colon only when it’s a proper name or it begins an independent clause:

7. Enter the Oxford comma debate. AP Stylebook’s guidance on the much-debated punctuation mark is clear: Don’t use it in a series, except when necessary for clarity.

Though AP style is to omit the Oxford comma, many organizations’ internal style guides include its use. Communicators’ contention over the mark was increased recently after a court case was decided based on the absence of the serial comma.

8. Cooperate and coordinate are exceptions. If you’re using these words to describe a brainstorming session or a collaborative campaign, AP style dictates that you don’t use a hyphen.

Though you would use a hyphen with most prefixes ending in a vowel and preceding a word that starts with the same vowel, those two are the exception:

9. Watch your plurals. When using the phrase, “average of,” remember to use a plural verb in your sentence:

10. Deliver the right ratios. If your next article uses ratios to report statistics, AP Stylebook says to use hyphens and omit the word “to” if the number precedes the word “ratio.” Here are a few examples:


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