The AP Stylebook Isn’t ‘the Bible’ for Internal Communications

AP Stylebook

Many employee communicators use the Associated Press Stylebook for their internal publications and other written content. To many, AP is “the bible” and its rules must be adhered to strictly. But this intractable approach has some major flaws including the following:

  • The AP Stylebook is written specifically for newspapers and their general audiences. It wasn’t written for organizations and their employees. AP doesn’t include many technical and industry terms that an organization deals with on a daily basis.
  • Many AP rules are often mistaken as grammatical rules but in actuality many of them are intended simply to enhance word hyphenation or to conserve space so that more words can be crammed into narrow newspaper columns. In an organization, narrow columns are seldom the delivery format. AP was never intended for CEO letters, HR posters or intranet sites.
  • Some AP rules are the result of outdated technology and subsequent tradition. The reason AP calls for lowercase titles is not rooted in anything grammatical. It is in fact a holdover from the days when typesetting was done on Linotype machines and uppercasing was a tedious procedure. But there’s no reason why a modern organization should be bound by an archaic newspaper rule. And yet, some employee communication managers will risk their jobs arguing with a CEO over whether to uppercase a management title.

What AP does well is bring consistency to writing. I believe organizations should use AP as a starting point and create their own supplemental internal stylebooks. I give the following advice: It’s OK to contradict AP as long as the deviation is (1) well thought-out and (2) applied consistently. Think carefully about all of the applications of a proposed change before implementing it and, once the change is put into place, make certain that it is carried out consistently across all communications. It should be noted that even newspapers deviate from AP at times. For example, The Wall Street Journal uses a percentage sign (%) instead of spelling out the word “percent.” This is probably because WSJ editors know many of their readers have a financial mindset and are accustomed to seeing percent signs.

A well-written internal communication stylebook is a good way to increase consistency throughout your organization and to encourage brand vocabulary amongst all employees. Share it with your communication partners in HR and marketing. Consider making it a wiki with a cross-functional team of content experts as editors. Consider combining it with internal branding guidelines and logo usage rules.

Allowing the leaders of your organization to capitalize their job titles just might allow everyone to focus on more important issues.

So, have I committed blasphemy, or are consistent and thoughtful deviations from AP a good thing? What say you?


Mike Bennett

about 8 years ago

As much as I love AP style, I fully agree that we need to be flexible in its application. I gave up on title capitalization a long time ago. It makes people happy to see their titles in capital letters, and it allows us to move along to other things.

Colleen Newvine Tebeau

about 8 years ago

Paul, this is why AP Stylebook Online includes the ability to add your own custom entries and add notes to AP's listings. We completely understand that every organization, whether a newsroom or PR agency or internal communications team, has its own style needs and your style resource should reflect that. Having your own style guide can help with that internal consistency so you don't have to argue every time about whether you capitalize a department name. Colleen Newvine product manager, AP Stylebook

Paul Barton

about 8 years ago

Custom entries and notes are fabulous features. Thanks for sharing Colleen.

about 8 years ago

This is perfect for Employee Comms. Let me know if you want to check it out. Employee Desktop Alert Software

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