Making local editors happy with AP style

Michael Wunder | Community Storyteller

Your affiliated fund is ready to announce its latest project. You’ve written the press release – complete with ample quotes and information – and multiple other fund advisory committee members have proofread it for grammatical errors and overall composition. You’ve ticked some major boxes to catch your local newspaper editor’s eye, but if you truly want to make their life easier (and increase your chances of getting published), make sure the release conforms with the Associated Press Stylebook.

The Associated Press (AP) is a New York City-based not-for-profit news agency that provides content to newspapers across the country, from the Washington Post to the Lincoln Journal Star. But the agency is also known for its long-running, annually updated stylebook. The 2019 edition, the most recent available, spans more than 1,200 pages. It’s packed with rules, some more obscure than others. Here are a few to consider as you craft your next big announcement:

The serial comma (a.k.a. Oxford comma) – You probably write your grocery lists with a comma before the conjunction, like this: Eggs, milk, apples, bananas, and coffee. Adherents of AP style, though, shun the serial comma. Don’t use it when writing a press release: Eggs, milk, apples, bananas and coffee.

Datelines – Use datelines when writing your releases. They set the scene and inform readers where an article or press release takes place:

BENNET, Neb. – The Bennet Area Community Foundation Fund (BACFF) recently secured a $5 billion gift from Scrooge McDuck.

When an editor sees the dateline at the beginning of a release, they know immediately whether the information to follow will be relevant to their coverage area.

State names – In the previous example, Nebraska was abbreviated to Neb. in the dateline. That is the one of the few instances when state names are abbreviated in AP style. In the body of your release, spell out the entire name.

Percentages – As of 2019, AP style now recommends using the percent sign. Use 20% instead of 20 percent.

Capitalization – Only capitalize proper nouns. To quote AP, “In general, avoid unnecessary capitals.” That means avoiding the use of ALL CAPS, too. Staff position titles are capitalized only when they precede the person’s name. Example: Fund Advisory Committee Chair John Smith is very thorough. Or, John Smith, fund advisory committee chair, is thorough.

Punctuation and quotes – When using a quote within your release, put punctuation inside of quotation marks: “When I looked at the work BACFF was doing in the community, I just had to give,” McDuck said. “They are strengthening this town.”

Acronyms – Although the local editor likely will recognize your affiliated fund’s acronym, be sure to write out the full name on first reference with the acronym in parentheses: Greater Waverly Area Foundation Fund (GWAFF). Use the acronym on further references within the release.

Have a question about AP Style? Reach out to me at

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