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Understanding AP Style

By Danielle Sinon

Have you ever thought about how a book is edited? Yes, we use dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?) to make sure words are spelled right and are used properly. But there’s another important resource that’s always an arm’s-length away, at least in our editorial office: the AP Stylebook.

What is AP style?

At some point you may have come across the Chicago Manual of Style or the MLA (Modern Language Association) Style Manual, both of which are common resources when writing college papers. But you may not have heard of AP Style.

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook provides guidelines for authors and editors on how to write. As it is a journalistic style, it is used most commonly in newspapers and magazines to keep articles brief, consistent, and clear. The guide provides a standardized method of writing simple things like numbers, dates and street addresses. But it also helps you figure out where exactly you need to put those commas and apostrophes. Each year a new version of this book is released as the world around us changes and new words enter our everyday vocabularies. For example, in 2018 the words chorizo and matcha were added to the food chapter.

Why do we use AP style?

Here at Atlantic Publishing, most of the books we publish are works of non-fiction. This means we’re usually dealing with a lot of facts and figures, similar to someone working for a magazine or newspaper. Along with our in-house style guide, we use the AP Stylebook as our go-to writing and editing reference.

While the Chicago and MLA styles are also common guides used in the world of publishing, we’ve decided that the AP style is the best fit for us. It also doesn’t hurt that if Atlantic Publishing were going to be abbreviated, it would also be called AP!

Five Important Elements of AP Style


Numbers one through nine are spelled out, and numbers 10 and up are written as figures. A few exceptions are when you are dealing with street addresses, ages, dimensions, time, and money.


  1. Leah has been taking piano lessons for seven years.

  2. John lives at 85 Mockingbird Lane.

  3. There are 14 students in Miss Doyle’s class.


Figures are always used when discussing ages. Use a hyphen for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun or as substitutes for a noun. When discussing a specific age range, never use an apostrophe between the number and the “s.”


  1. Michael will soon be 4 years old.

  2. The 100-year-old mansion is beginning to crumble.

  3. The man looks like he could be in his 40s.


Seasons are only capitalized if they are part of a formal name.


  1. Everyone is ready for spring to arrive.

  2. The next Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo in 2020.


Write percentages out as figures. Always spell out percent instead of using the symbol (%).


  1. I have read 53 percent of the books I own.

  2. According to the forecast, there is a 70 percent chance it is going to rain today.

Composition Titles

This category applies when writing the titles of books, plays, songs, movies, and television programs, to name a few. The main words in the title are capitalized and quotation marks are put around the title. The Bible and reference works, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias, do not require quotation marks.


  1. One of the classics of American literature is “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain.

  2. Released in 2018, “First Man” is a movie that tells the story of how Neil Armstrong made his journey to the moon.

  3. She reads her Bible every night.

We hope you’ve gained some insight into the world of AP Style. With the guidelines put in place, it helps the publishing process run smoothly and efficiently. While this is an important element of publishing, it isn’t something you need to worry about; we leave that to our editors! As long as you can get your words down on paper, we can get to work on the rest.

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