In public relations, writing is everything. Whether it’s in a press release, on a blog, or social media, your writing proficiency is vital.
Many professionals fear writing for a number of reasons; among them is that there are so many confusing rules.
I can’t blame them. It’s no easy feat mastering the rules of writing. Changes happen so frequently that it’s hard to stay current. Writing well—all the while following Associated Press style—is invaluable in the PR world, but is also useful for any career that involves written communication.
Below are tips to avoid common style blunders and some simple guidelines to make sure your writing is clean and free of errors:
- Spacing after a period: Type only one space after a period. The debate over one space or two goes back hundreds of years. However, typographers decided long ago that we should use one space between sentences. Every major style guide—including Modern Language Association Style Manual (MLA), Chicago Manual of Style and AP—prescribes a single space after a period.
- Toward: In American English, toward should not end in an s; same goes for forward, backward, upward, downward, etc.
- Farther, further: Farther refers to physical distance; further refers to an extension of time or degree.
- Numbers: Write out integers one through nine; use figures for 10 and higher. Spell out a number if it starts a sentence (unless it’s a year, such as 2014).
- Months and seasons: When using a month with a specific date, abbreviate only Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov. and Dec., and spell out when using alone or with only the year. The seasons—winter, spring, summer, autumn/fall—are not capitalized.
- Dates and times: Write dates as June 4 and not June 4th and times as 9 a.m. rather than 9:00 AM. Always be careful with EDT vs. EST; simply using ET is a handy failsafe.
- State abbreviations: AP doesn’t follow standard ZIP code abbreviations. This spring, AP editors updated the rules to prescribe spelling out state names in the text of articles. State names are still abbreviated in photo captions, lists and datelines, however, and AP uses its own set of abbreviations—e.g., Mass. for Massachusetts; N.Y. for New York; Calif. for California; Fla. for Florida, and so on. Eight states—Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas, and Utah—aren’t ever abbreviated.
- There, their, they’re: There indicates direction; their is possessive; they’re is a contraction for they are.
- Its/it’s: Use it’s as a contraction for it is. Use its as a possessive.
- Email/website: Both are single, lowercase words. (Before 2011, AP style was to write e-mail and Web site.)
- Apostrophe: Use an apostrophe for contractions (don’t for do not), or to show possession (except in the case of possessive pronouns: hers, its, yours, ours, theirs).
- That, which: Use that for essential clauses, important to the meaning of the sentence. Use which for nonessential clauses, where the pronoun is less necessary, and use commas.
- Me, myself, and I: Too often people use I when they should use me, because I seems to sound more proper—so it must be right, right? Nope. The easy way to get this one right is to simply remove the other person from the sentence and then do what sounds correct. You would never say, “Give I a call,” so you wouldn’t say, “Give Chris and I a call.” Don’t be afraid of me. Also, don’t use myself simply because you’re not sure whether me or I would be the correct choice. Myself is a reflexive pronoun: I can dress myself.
- Titles: Only capitalize formal titles when they precede an individual’s name. If the title falls after the name, then it’s lowercase.
To stay current on writing trends, follow AP Stylebook on Twitter.
Natasa Stolevski is PR coordinator for Marketing Inspirations. A version of this article originally appeared on the Marketing Inspirations blog.