Professor Gibson's “Top 15”

From The Associated Press Stylebook

     This is Professor Gibson's guide to some of the sections and entries in the AP Stylebook that you run into more often or that are just really more important.
     This is a guide, period. It is something that may offer a hint or two — not necessarily provide the entire answer. Do not rely on this guide exclusively, like some “get out of jail” card leading you to think you can ignore the rest of the AP Stylebook. That, simply, won't work. Familiarizing yourself with the entire stylebook is the only course to take; familiarizing yourself with these areas simply will make life a bit easier. 
     Hint: Don't “read” the AP Stylebook in the true sense of the word, but scan, review, peruse — again and again, stopping on occasion to read those sections that catch your eye (the unusual, the interesting, the “Oh, I didn't know that”) or those items that give you the most trouble. Check out study tips for more help.

   Punctuation: You'll bump into everything in this section over and over and over. I can't emphasize enough the importance of reviewing this section — throughout the semester and throughout your life.

   Addresses: This section of the stylebook lets you know what to abbreviate (and what not to), as well as how to use numbers, etc.

   Ages: Always uses numerals — never spell out. For example: a 1-month-old child; Billy, 7, was . . . ; Susan, 1 month, was . . . , etc. The only exception is when an age begins a sentence, as in: Nine-year-old Jimmy Jones....

  Capitalization: Generally, in American journalism (perhaps because of the rather egalitarian nature of America), we avoid capitalizations except for proper nouns. Read this section carefully, especially the section about titles. (See titles below.)

  Courtesy titles: Generally, avoid. (And if you don't know what I mean by a courtesy title, look it up.)

  Datelines: The rule for datelines also applies to references within a story.

   Doctor: I include this only because it differs from Kansan style. Know the differences between AP and the Kansan. In my class, Kansan style is paramount in news copy, even over the almighty AP. Remember the style hierarchy: Kansan first, AP next, American Heritage dictionary next, and so on (unless, of course, your professor or your boss tells you differently!). Oh, never use Dr., according to Kansan style.

   Essential clauses, nonessential clauses: The punctuation section will refer you to this because it involves use of the comma. Essential clauses do not have commas and usually contain the word “that”; nonessential clauses are set off by commas and often contain the word “which.” Important: Essential and non-essential has nothing to do with the importance of the information contained in the words, but the importance of the words to understand the essence of the sentence. For example: The house that was red burned down. (You need to know the color to know which house burned down.) The house, which was red, burned down. (If more than one house was red or you had no reference to what color each house was, then its redness is not essential to your understanding which house burned down. Therefore, that part, while it may be important to your story or description, is set off by commas and uses “which” because it's not ”essential.”) Got it? Even if you think you do, read the AP entry carefully until you know you do. Take the “that/which” challenge. 

   Numerals: Read it, one, two, three or more times — until you have a good understanding of the scheme, the way AP works with numbers. It gets pretty easy — easy enough for a 1- or 10- or 20-year-old. Get my drift? If you do, your grades will be better. Count on it!

   Oil equivalency table: “What? The oil equivalency table?” you shriek. Yep. This is a chart with profound implications for . . . uh, I have no idea, but it must be important to someone. In my 50-plus years in the biz, I've never had an occasion to use it — except for kicks. I used to put this on a closed-book quiz for my students at the University of Florida, where I was an adjunct when I was executive editor of The Gainesville Sun. “What,” I would ask aloud, “are the various equivalents of crude oil, foreign, and crude oil, domestic, in dinars?” They got a kick out of it — after I told 'em I was kidding. I'll spare you. But, if on the off chance you ever need it, you'll be one of the few persons in the world who'll know where to find it. (By the way, “dinar” is the money of Iran, and a word that often shows up on crossword puzzles.)

   Plurals: Don't make an “s” of yourself by missing something that's easy to check. It's easy — except for those darned Latin endings, but you'd better learn that it's “media are”not “media is.” Media is the plural of medium, not mediums, unless, of course, you're referring to the Psychic Friends Network.

   Possessives: Whose is whose? Yours, mine or theirs? It's its!

   State names: I was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Norfolk, Va., and now live in Kansas. (Gee, aren't you glad you know that? But that's not why I did what I did.) Hint #1: The sentence offers examples of what you'll run into most. Hint #2: Don't go postal — do not use postal designations in stories (unless it's a story about postal designations or you are giving the actual mailing address of someone or something!).

   Time element, time of day and time zones: Make special note of “Deciding on clock time.” AP says to use Eastern time references in a national story. That's true, unless your media outlet is in another time zone. For, say, the Kansan or KUJH, transform to Central Time equivalents.

   Titles: Generally, official titles are capitalized when placed before a name and not set off by commas: “Vice President Joe Biden.” They are lower case when placed after the name (and set off by commas) — “Joe Biden, vice president, spoke today” — or the name is set off by commas after the title: “The vice president, Joe Biden, met with . . . .” Non-official titles, such as attorney and journalist, are not capitalized: “. . . told attorney F. Lee Bailey that . . .” In the Kansan, professor is an earned title, so it's upper case before a name (which differs from AP style): “. . . told Professor Gibson that . . . ”(Any other words that you might insert instead of Professor before my name, especially after you get your first quiz grades, likely are not capitalized!)