Are You in Style?

April 28, 2010 by  
Filed under All, PR

Bring up grammar, spelling or the latest technique for diagramming a sentence (remember that?) and pretty much the whole room will let out an audible groan. Most folks – save for newspaper copy editors and English teachers – just don’t have a great grasp on our native tongue.

Sure, most of us have a grammar rule that gives us pause (think affect vs. effect), and everyone has at least a couple of words they struggle to spell (think canceled). But writing is so much of what we do, it deserves our focus. On any given day, I read an e-mail with an error (think it’s vs. its). And that’s simply unprofessional.

As a longtime newspaper reporter and editor and having taught some classes on writing, I have become well versed in Associated Press style. Those in the journalism industry abide by the AP Stylebook and its guidelines on punctuation, abbreviations and spelling. It gives a standard for consistency.

Public relations professionals should abide by AP style rules so they are in line with what journalists are doing and are writing their news releases in a journalist-friendly way.

Yes, some of the items in the stylebook are a little obscure (proper spelling for “shepherd’s pie”), but most are incredibly useful. Here’s a list of some common spelling, grammar and style errors. Keep this list handy and start checking your work.

Dates: When a date is used with the month, abbreviate all months except March, April, May, June, July. (Example: The program launched on Dec. 10, 2009.) But when the month is used alone, spell it out. (Example: The rebate will extend through the end of December 2010.) Do not use: “th,” “st” or “rd” as in “Let’s meet on March 11th.”

Times: Lowercase a.m. and p.m. and use periods and a space between the time. Do not write times with “:00” (such as 8:00). Spell out “noon” for 12 p.m. and “midnight” for 12 a.m.

Addresses: When using the specific street address, abbreviate: boulevard (blvd.), street (st.) and avenue (ave.). (Example: The office is at 123 Main St.). When the street name stands alone, spell out. (Example: The office is located somewhere on Washington Boulevard.)

Numbers: Spell out numbers zero through nine; use numerals for 10 and above. There are some exceptions to this rule such as always use figures for ages.

Capitalization: Capitalize formal titles when used immediately before a name. (Example:  XYZ Inc. President Jane Smith is chairing the committee.). If you’re unsure, just don’t capitalize.

A final few tips:

  • It’s – it is; its – the possessive
  • Use website, Web page and Internet
  • No “s” at the end of backward, forward, toward and afterward.
  • Use “more than” instead of “over” when referring to an amount (Example: I ran more than 10 miles.).
  • Between is for two items/people; among is for three or more.