The Associated Press Stylebook calls itself, “The Bible of the Newspaper Industry.” However, the AP Stylebook is the ultimate writing resource for more than just newspapers. Hundreds of companies and publications ranging from traditional newspapers, to online publishers, to newsletter distributers, to marketing brochures, and public relations department materials rely on the AP Stylebook to arbitrate any number of grammatical, spelling, or punctuation issues that may arise in the fast changing world we live in. While the dictionary gets left further and further behind, the AP Stylebook continues to hold court over much of the writing universe.
When organizations large or small want clear, accurate writing, they demand “AP Style writing” from writers. However, AP Style is not a defined structure like MLA style, nor is a preset design for publication like MLA format. Rather, the Associated Press Stylebook is a multi-part guide aimed at professional writers who write for publications that simply cannot be expected to always conform to a specific article construction.
As such, it does not contain rules for how something must be written or structured. Rather, the AP Styleguide’s largest section just lists numerous words and phrases that are commonly used in current writing, but that are not to be found in authoritative fashion in the usual places like dictionaries. Some of the more common entries are the names of geographic locations or regions, technological terms, important people and positions, and pop culture phrasing and terminology.
For example, while the word pope is defined in most dictionaries, those resources are often silent on how the word should or should not be capitalized in certain contexts. When referring to the office or title without the name of a specific pope attached, the word should not be capitalized, but when referring to a specific pope by name and title, then the word is capitalized as in Pope John Paul II.
Other sections are much smaller and include a guide to punctuation, a quick primer on media law topics, formatting for a bibliography, and how to file a new story on the wire.
Those looking for a type of writing or a guide to things like whether or not to use the first person or how to handle gender neutral writing will find themselves disappointed. Issues of this nature are not addressed in the Associated Press Stylebook.
Therefore, competent writers who are already proficient in grammar and spelling may consider themselves to be fully capable of AP Style writing and would be correct in representing themselves as such to potential employers or managers who are requesting the ability to write AP style. In the end, AP style is, for most writers, nothing more than looking up how to deal with certain words or phrases when the come across those that are not well defined in other places but that require consensus on how to deal with them. For the freelance writer, The Associated Press Stylebook is just another reference book like the dictionary.