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Style Rant!

July 25, 2009


Everyone has their own “style” of dressing, talking, living and, yes, writing.  When you are working in journalism – whether on the reporting or pitching side of the equation – there are very strict style guidelines your writing must follow.  It’s called Associated Press (AP) Style

The reason is for the guidelines is simple.  AP Style employs solid grammar and has a sole focus of keeping written communication consistent and understandable to the reader. 

Think about how confusing it would be to read a newspaper or magazine where each story had a different use of punctuation, abbreviations and tone. In addition the entire publication would appear extremely sloppy. With AP Style, the reader knows what to expect…and editors often get an ear-full when readers find those sloppy grammatical errors!

Recently, I was asked by a client to consider moving all punctuation outside of the quotation marks in our media materials.  The reason for the request was the individual’s personal crusade to change the way we use quotations because he personally finds punctuation inside of them confusing.  

Since I’ve seen a growing number of people making this punctuation move, I wondered if style and grammatical rules on quotations had changed.  I consulted my AP Style guide.  Here’s what it says:

  Quotation marks (“ ”)

• Periods and commas always go within quotation marks. (emphasis mine)

• Dashes, semicolons, question marks and exclamation points go within the quotation marks when they apply to the quoted material. They go outside when they apply to the whole sentence.

I stood my ground on the punctuation, with the full backing of the style guide behind me.  The placement of a small punctuation mark may not seem like that big of a deal to you, there truly are multiple reasons why it’s very important.  It comes down to the number one reason we have success in our jobs as PR practitioners: RELATIONSHIPS.

When you are building relationships with reporters and editors, you have to speak their language. Their language: AP Style.  When you send a release, you make their life much easier when you take the time to ensure the writing aligns with their style guidelines. When you make their life easier, you’ve just made a friend.

I’ve often had news releases printed word-for-word.  Therefore, I know the importance of a properly written document that can fit into the fabric of the news and look like it’s been written by a staffer.

Pay attention to style and build healthy relationships for the future!

For more information on AP Style, you can buy a copy of the book at any bookstore, or purchase an online subscription to AP where you also have access to “Ask the Editor” for confusing style situations. You can also follow them at @APStylebook on Twitter.


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