Punctuation In AP Style

Punctuation in AP Style

Punctuation gives many people problems, but understanding an overview of how to punctuate according to Associated Press style will improve your accuracy in writing.

Punctuating sentences, paragraphs and articles can be difficult at times because the rules differ from style to style, but punctuation is necessary for readers to understand your meaning.

Think of punctuation as the road signs of writing, not only telling you when and where to pause, but how to reflect on the writing and what parts of the writing are most important.

The following are the highlights of punctuation rules in AP style.

Commas in Associated Press Style

Omit the serial comma (the final comma in a series of words or phrases) when writing in AP style unless the list is complicated or omission of the serial comma could cause confusion.

  • Correct: Friday’s dance awarded best dressed, most likely to succeed, most determined, most popular and class favorite.
  • Correct: At Tuesday’s football game the band refused to play, protested with signs and stole the quarterback’s mouthpiece.
  • Incorrect: The children were offered tuna, turkey, ham and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (Were the children offered cheese and peanut butter sandwiches? Use a serial comma in cases like these.)

Do not use a comma before the Jr. or Sr. or Roman numerals in names.

  • Correct: David Sonnier Jr. ran for office.
  • Incorrect: Masey Pinot, IV attended the charity luncheon.

Periods in Associated Press Style

Most acronyms do not use periods. The United States, United Nations (only use acronyms when used as adjectives), and the time words ante meridiem and post meridiem are exceptions.

  • Correct: The U.S. Navy corresponded with U.N. officials at 10 a.m. about NASA.

Most abbreviations use a period, as do points of the compass and street addresses.

  • Correct: Police arrested the suspect at 515 W. Tropes St.

Quotation Marks in Associated Press Style

Quotes are tricky whether they’re used in AP style or in a casual e-mail. Use quotes to display direct quotations, always placing the comma (and most of other punctuation) before the closing quote.

Don’t use quotation marks around a word or phrase that is not a direct quote. Do not use quotation marks around a word or group of words that are directly quoted when the meaning is clear, regardless of the claim made or the slang used.

  • Incorrect: The teacher called the students “liars.”
  • Incorrect: The student said the teacher had “lost her marbles.”

Do use quotes for nicknames.

  • Correct: Tabetha “T-Baby” Roy sustained minor injuries Thursday when a reporter threw a microphone at her.

Colons in Associated Press Style

Do not use colons in journalistic writing except for clock time. Do not use a colon when the time can be written without it (meaning times on the hour).

  • Correct: Johnson went missing at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, officials said.
  • Incorrect: Five children did summersaults across the intersection at 11:00 Friday morning.
  • Correct: Five children did summersaults across the intersection at 11 a.m.

Hyphens in Associated Press Style

Use hyphens between numbers and their measurement nouns.

  • Correct: The 7-foot basketball player was unparalleled in his performance.

Use hyphens between words of phrases that function as adjectives, but do not use hyphens between adverbs that end in –ly.

  • Correct: A 10-month-old baby was taken from a well-to-do family.
  • Incorrect: She thought he was a relatively sane man.

Remember to always reference the AP Stylebook for any questions or concerns you have about punctuating articles in AP style. With time and practice, you will learn the rules of AP style, but double checking work is the greatest tool a journalist has.

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