There are many rules that writers must understand and practice to perfect their prose.
For news writers and public relations professionals, mastering every entry in the nearly 500-page Associated Press Stylebook — the arbiter of journalistic style — isn’t something achieved overnight. It takes multiple red-ink markings — and perhaps lots of nagging from editors, even at The New York Times — for rules to become common knowledge.
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Here are seven hard-to-remember AP style rules that send writers to their guides for a quick refresher:
1. Affect vs. effect: As a verb, affect means to influence: The decision will affect my finances. Affect is rarely used a noun. As a verb, effect means to cause: She will effect change immediately. As a noun, effect means result: The effect of the accident was damaging.
2. On vs. about: As one of my editors said, on refers to spatial objects: He sat on the chair. Use about in nonspatial references: The professor will host a class about history.
3. It’s vs. its: Though relatively simple, this distinction is continually violated. Use it’s as a contraction for it is: It’s days like these that make me happy. Use its as the possessive form of the neuter pronoun: The company will announce its layoffs Friday afternoon.
4. Imply vs. infer: Writers or speakers imply in the words they use. A listener or reader infers something from the words.
5. E.g. vs. i.e.: e.g., means for example and is always followed by a comma: The foods my wife cooks are delicious (e.g., chicken, steak, and fish) .i.e., is the abbreviation for that is and is always followed by a comma: Wrestling with an alligator isn’t something I’d recommend, i.e., it’s a very bad idea.
6. Prefixes: Generally do not hyphenate when using a prefix with a word starting with a consonant: The coach will talk with his team pregame. The dinosaurs roamed during prehistoric ages. The preflight briefing will begin in a few minutes. The interstate road is long and dark.
7. Compound modifiers: A compound modifier is when two or more words that express a single concept precede a noun. Use a hyphen to link all the words in the compound, except the adverb very and all adverbs ending in -ly. The chart-topping hits were played on the radio all day. The long-term assignment was challenging. The highly regarded author spoke at the conference.
A version of this article first appeared on the InkHouse PR blog.