AP Style cheat sheet for content marketers

Share this :   | | | |
AP Style cheat sheet for content marketers

Around the USGBC communications and marketing departments, you’ll find one item sitting on most of my comrades’ desks: the AP Stylebook.

Since its initial publication in 1953, the stylebook has been the go-to authority in the communications world for spelling, language, punctuation, usage and style. It’s updated annually to reflect new terminology, such as “emoji,” and to revise older entries, such as whether “internet” is capitalized (hint: it’s now lowercased) or if you should spell out state names in a story (hint: you should).

New to AP Style, or need a refresher? Here’s a roundup of common AP Style guidelines and a few additional resources to help you never go out of (AP) style.


  • Spell out numbers zero through nine, but use numerals for 10 or higher. Also, spell out the numeral if it’s at the beginning of a sentence; calendar years are the exception. Examples:

One, two, three, 10, 12, 14
Four score and seven years ago
2008 was a great year.

  • Spell out fractions less than one, using hyphens between the words. Examples:

One-third, two-fifths
5 1/2

  • Use numbers for percents. Spell out the word “percent” instead of using the % symbol. Example:

She needed more than 51 percent of the vote to be elected mayor.


  • A general rule of thumb is the fewer hyphens, the better. But do use them to avoid confusion or to form a single idea from two or more words.
  • Don’t use a hyphen for adverbs that end with an -ly.
  • Do use a hyphen when you have a number plus a noun of measurement. Examples:

A 1,200-square-foot home
A 3-inch bug


  • Holidays should be capitalized.
  • Titles of books, plays, poems, songs, lectures or speech titles, movies and TV programs should be capitalized and placed in quotation marks. For newspapers and magazines, capitalize the name, but don’t add quotation marks. Examples:

“Game of Thrones,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” ”Blank Space” by Taylor Swift
The New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

  • Job descriptions are lowercased. Examples:

Author F. Scott Fitzgerald
Singer Aretha Franklin

Dates and Times

  • Use numbers for times, excluding noon and midnight. Don’t use zeroes.

Right: 11 a.m.
Wrong: 11:00 a.m.

  • Abbreviate the month if you’re including a specific date. If you’re also including the year, set off the year with commas. Don’t use “st,” “nd,” “rd” or “th” after the number for dates. Examples:

Right: Dec. 25. Wrong: Dec. 25th
It was seven years ago on Jan. 20, 2009, that Barack Obama was inaugurated as president of the United States.

Other AP Style Tips

  • Toward, forward and backward don’t end in an “s.”
  • Farther vs. further—Farther refers to a physical distance, while further refers to time or degree. Example:

Let’s go a little farther up the trail. I can look further into the problem.

  • Never use an acronym (NATO) or initialism (ASPCA) on the first reference.

Additional Resources

  • Follow AP Stylebook on Twitter at @APStylebook for regular updates and to ask questions. They also host monthly #APStyleChats.
  • “The Word: An Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing,” by Renè J. Cappon, is a great read for those looking to sharpen their writing skills.

Find ways to improve your web copy

Leave a comment