5 tips for corporate communicators on breaking AP Stylebook rules

My Blog Editor blog post "5 tips for corporate communicators on breaking AP Stylebook rules"
If your company’s editors follow the Associated Press Stylebook when writing and editing content, do they ever break the rules? Is that a good idea? Some say yes – in certain situations.

As a freelance content editor and proofreader for Fortune 500 corporations, I follow AP style and my clients’ company style guides. When I read this PR Daily blog post about breaking writing rules, I could definitely relate since, from time to time, my corporate clients (or their bosses) want to ignore style guidelines. I know other editors can relate to this, too. This inspired me to add my (professional) two cents.

Here are my AP Stylebook rule-breaking opinions:

  1. Never starting a sentence with a conjunction (and, but, nor, for, yet, so). This is not a rule to be broken, according to the AP Stylebook’s online Ask the Editor section:

    Q. Beginning a sentence with a conjunction. Does AP have a rule against beginning a sentence with a conjunction such as “but,” “and,” “however,” or “therefore?” Classic and rigid grammar books state that conjunctions should never start sentences. Many writers, however, have begun to do it regularly. What does AP say about it? from Yakima, Wash. on Jun 09, 2015

    A. There’s no AP Stylebook rule against starting a sentence with a conjunction. And it works well in some instances. But don’t overuse it. Or readers will be annoyed.

  2. (You see what AP did there – combining the answer with an example and making it funny? Oh AP, how you slay me with your clever word play!)

    Occasionally, my clients will start a sentence with a conjunction, and most of the time I don’t delete the conjunctions. The reason: Using a conjunction as a connector (between sentences) is the way people really talk. It’s conversational, and the trend I’m seeing with my corporate communications clients is that they are actively using a more casual tone online to better attract and connect with their audiences.

  3. Using a noun as a verb. I discourage clients from doing this to avoid the birth of new corporate buzzwords (I think we can all agree that there are way too many of those already.).
  4. Using “they” when referring to a singular noun. Yuck. ’Hate this one. Don’t do it. It’s bad grammar, in my opinion. If a writer feels the need to use “they,” the writer can use it in referring to a plural noun. In other words, use “Skilled corporate communicators know they should use a style guide” instead of “A skilled corporate communicator knows they should use a style guide.”
  5. “Stream of consciousness” writing. I’d need a specific example of this to know whether it makes sense and whether it’s something a reader can follow. It sounds fine if the content is clear and if the goal of the content is to show the writer’s voice and personality, but it depends.
  6. Capitalize titles that appear before names but don’t capitalize titles after names. I encourage clients to adhere to this AP style rule, and they generally do so. 

The problem with capitalizing titles after names is that it breaks one of the most basic AP Stylebook rules, which, in turn, makes the company look less professional.

    When I see a title capitalized after a name my opinion is that the writer does not know AP style or is choosing to ignore AP style. To me, capitalizing titles after names is the same thing as “shouting” the title. It’s as if the writer thinks the title is more important than it really is. This makes the company publishing the content look arrogant, in my opinion.

The client is always right

There are plenty of times when a corporate client wants to deviate from the AP Stylebook, and the bottom line is that the client is the boss. The client has the final say. The job of corporate editors (or any other AP style guardians) is to know AP style and company style, educate the client about the rules and, ultimately, honor the client’s wishes.

Whatever the decision, the editors need to make sure deviations from AP style rules are documented (or updated) in the company style guide so that everyone creating content knows and follows the rules. That ensures that all content is consistent and in keeping with the company’s brand.

What AP Stylebook rules do you deviate from and how do you make sure your corporate communicators are consistent in following the revised rules?

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