AP Style Rules at a Glance

Periods: They’re often omitted when abbreviating the name of an organization or iconic figure: CIA, FBI, VCU, JFK. Use periods to abbreviate certain titles (Gov., Dr., Sen., Rep., Mr., Ms.); Jr. or Sr. after a name; Co., Corp., Inc.; months in exact dates; St., Ave. or Blvd. in exact addresses; a state name after a city; and academic degrees after a name (Ph.D., M.A., B.A. – but news articles rarely use that construction).

Periods with quotes: Periods always go inside quotation marks. He said, “It was God’s will.” Will she run again? “No – never.”

Periods with parentheses: If the parenthetical material is not a sentence, the period goes outside the parentheses. He smiled (with his eyes). … If the parenthetical material is a sentence, the period goes inside the parentheses. (He smiled with his eyes.)

Periods as ellipsis: Three periods indicates omission of a word or words. Put a space on either side of “…”: “I want … to do what’s best,” he said. Use four periods if an ellipsis ends the sentence: He sighed. “I wish there was something I could do to turn back time. … ” Use ellipses rarely in newswriting – and never at the start of a sentence. Avoid using two ellipses in one quote; it’s better to paraphrase.

Commas: Use when linking two independent clauses (complete sentences) with a conjunction, such as ‘and’: He will announce the budget cuts on Monday, and VCU is braced for the worst. Don’t use a comma if the sentence has only a compound verb and the subject isn’t repeated: She dropped the gun and surrendered. Use when beginning a sentence with a clause, phrase, adverb – usually anything except the subject: During Tropical Storm Ernesto, the Battery Park neighborhood was flooded.

Commas with a series: Usually omit comma before a conjunction: red, white and blue. (Journalists do not use a ‘serial comma’ unless the meaning otherwise would be unclear: the colleges of engineering, humanities and sciences, and education.)

Omit commas between closely related words: 10 a.m. Saturday … 11:30 p.m. EDT … Jesse Jackson Jr. (No commas before Jr., Sr., III.)

Commas with quotes: Commas go inside quotation marks. “That’s right,” she said. … “It ain’t over,” he said, “until the fat lady sings.”

Commas set off an apposition (a word, phrase or clause used as explanation): Terry Oggel, the school’s former director, said … Drew Brees, the Saints’ quarterback, was injured …

Commas: Omit comma between ‘name’ and ‘of’: The prize was awarded to Will Jones of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. … Julie Rodriguez of Hopewell offered to organize the blood drive. … The tallest player was Larry Sanders of VCU.

Commas and numbers: Use commas in numbers of 1,000 or more (VCU has 31,000 students) … but not for years, ZIP codes, phone numbers or serial numbers (She lives in ZIP code 23229).

Commas: Set off the source in a quotation if:

  • The source comes within the sentence. Virginia, he said, will comply with the law.
  • The source comes at the end of the sentence. Virginia will comply with the law, he said.
  • It is a direct quote, capitalized and a sentence. He said, “Virginia will comply with the law.”

But there’s no comma in: He said Virginia will comply with the law.

Colons: Use colons to indicate time (but not right on the hour): 3:30 p.m.; 11:45 a.m.; 8 p.m. A colon can be used to set up long, direct quotes or short, pithy quotes … He winked: “That’s not all, folks.” … You can use a colon to introduce a list. The rector gave three reasons for the tuition increase: a decline in state funding, rising energy costs and an increase in faculty salaries. … Colons are used in legal, religious and literary citations (Matthew 14:22; Hamlet 1:3:28). … A colon can be used to present an idea with a flourish – to announce something. … He learned the most important lesson of all: honesty. … The superintendent has a bold idea: She will give every student a laptop computer. (Note the capitalization: If a complete sentence follows the colon, capitalize it.)

Semicolons: Use a semicolon to link two independent clauses with no connecting words. … They couldn’t make it to the summit; they were too tired. … Use a semicolon with ‘however’ or ‘therefore’: He wanted to protest; however, his friends told him to keep his mouth shut. (But newswriting isn’t like English class. It’s OK to use ‘however’ or ‘therefore’ without a semicolon.)

Semicolons with a series: Semicolons can set off a series that contains commas. Virginia State Police raided homes at 1101 W. Cary St., Richmond; 459 Elm Ave., Charlottesville; and 531 Oak Drive, Danville. Semicolons indicate more separation than a comma but not as much as a period. … Honors students may register for classes beginning March 26; then graduates students may register on April 2; and finally, undergraduates get their chance, starting with seniors on April 4.

Dash: Use two hyphens, with a space on either side. A dash can set off information; it’s an alternative to a comma, usually for abrupt change: VCU – along with the University of Richmond – will hold a memorial service Sunday. … A dash often indicates emphatic pause or surprise: She later found her keys – in the pocket of her jacket. … You can use dashes to set off a comma-studded series: Four of VCU’s graduate schools – arts, social work, education and nursing – rank among the best in the nation.

Dashes and datelines: At the start of a story, the city name is in ALL CAPS. For distant cities, put the state or country, then a dash.

  • NORFOLK – The U.S. Navy announced …
  • DAYTONA, Fla. – Spring Break started …
  • DOHA, Qatar – VCU’s arts school here …

Many big cities ‘stand alone’ in datelines, without a state or country. Check the AP Stylebook.

Hyphen: A hyphen joins two or more words working as an adjective. (But we usually don’t hyphenate an adverb + adjective.) A hyphen sometimes joins a prefix and a word, especially if:

  • Using ex (meaning former: ex-husband) or anti (anti-American, anti-war)
  • Meaning unclear (re-create)
  • Duplicate vowels (re-emerge)

Hyphens and heritage: Use a hyphen to designate dual heritage: African-American, Italian-American, Mexican-American … But don’t hyphenate Latin American. (Ask yourself: Is ethnicity relevant to the story? If not, omit it.)

Hyphenated words: a first-quarter touchdown … a bluish-green dress … a full-time job, a well-known man … a better-qualified woman … a know-it-all attitude … pre-empt, pre-existing … re-elect, re-enact … anti-social, anti-war

No hyphens in: a very good time … an easily remembered rule … in the first quarter … She works full time. … fundraiser, fundraising (exception to Webster’s) … teenager, nonprofit … prearrange, premarital

Quotation marks: Put nicknames in quotes (lawyer E.G. “Buddy” Allen). Put quotes around the titles of books, songs, TV shows, movies, computer games, plays, operas, poems, lectures and works of art (but not newspapers or magazines). Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks. There’s no comma after a “?” or “!”:

“Isn’t that right?” she asked.

“Absolutely not!” he yelled.

Single quote marks: Use single quotes for a quote within a quote: “The police told me, ‘Hold up your hands,’ and so I did,” Rodriguez said. Also use single quotes for headlines:

Falwell called ‘hero,’ ‘homophobe’

Apostrophes: Use them for possession: VCU’s new policy; John’s bicycle … for contractions: isn’t; can’t; won’t; it’s … to pluralize single letters: A’s; F’s; B’s … but don’t use an apostrophe to pluralize numbers or multiple letters: ABCs; SOLs; low 20s; the 1990s …

Internet terms: Capitalize Internet (the Net is acceptable in later references), World Wide Web, Web. But lowercase website (and make it one word; this is a change that AP announced in 2010). Lowercase and hyphenate e-mail (and e-book, e-commerce, e-business).


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