If you want to look good, style matters
May 30, 2018
At P&G, we always strive to be the best in our craft. In the pursuit of this goal, we asked Mary Sterenberg of The Ohio State University to do a refresher webinar for our team on grammar and AP Style. We loved it, and her. We loved it so much, in fact, that we asked her to share some of her phenomenal expertise and talents here with all of you. We hope you enjoy as much as we did! -- Kate Snyder, APR Principal Strategist and Owner
At the risk of sounding like a middle-of-the-night infomercial, would you like to sound smarter? Look more professional? Get your point across more quickly and effectively? Well, I have the answer – ok, AN answer. Consciously choose a set of style rules to guide your writing, and deliberately stick to that style. It sounds simple, but it makes a bigger difference than many people appreciate. I recommend Associated Press style (even if this involves additional learning on your part) for a couple reasons:
- Journalists rely on it for accurate storytelling for the masses. This means AP style rules keep things as clear, simple and short as possible, and these qualities improve writing for almost any purpose.
- It already exists, so why reinvent the wheel?
As a former journalist, I maintain a fierce loyalty to AP style. So let me lay out an argument for why this style is worth the $22.95 price of the book and the effort to learn and follow its guidelines.
Routine Equals Efficiency
Just like sticking with the same morning routine helps ensure you don’t forget things, adhering to a consistent style improves readability and brand recognition. AP style chooses one and only one spelling for every word and gives guidelines for when to capitalize. Consistency in these small things shows professionalism and attention to detail – things readers notice. And using AP style makes nailing these details routine and faster for you as a writer.
Even SEO Appreciates Simplicity
Without getting too techy, the simple, easy-to-understand writing style promoted by AP style actually generates better search engine results. The battle to find the right keywords rages on, but search engines respond more and more to clear and readable language with valuable content. Search Engine Journal talks about the ongoing “shift away from keyword-focused content towards more relevant content written in natural language.”[Note: AP style would say to use “toward” rather than “towards” because what does that “s” really accomplish?]
Shorter Content Fits Shorter Attention Spans
AP style defaults to the shortest and simplest content and style options unless something creates potential confusion. Why use 8:00 a.m. when 8 a.m. works? Why add fluff phrases like “Company X is pleased to announce…” or “in order to” when they don’t add information or value? Sticking with AP style means relying on the experts at the Associated Press to give you the shortest and least confusing wording and punctuation options based on reader research. This is a necessity in an environment with so many things vying for readers’ time and attention.
Getting It Right Remains the Bottom Line
As writers, we need to make sure we keep the main thing the main thing (and in case you’re wondering, the main thing is the message). Writing style can’t make up for weak or inaccurate content, but it can enhance a message and make it easier to understand. Or more entertaining. Or more credible. Journalists, who value accuracy and timeliness above all, rely on AP style for the precision language that helps them best tell their stories.
So, do I have you convinced? If you’re on board or just want to learn more, check out the AP Stylebook website or @APStylebook on Twitter. You can place orders for the 2018 Stylebook starting today, May 30, and the latest book includes a new polls and surveys chapter.
Mary Sterenberg is a lecturer with The Ohio State University’s School of Communication and a freelance writer. Before her teaching career, she worked in journalism and health care public relations.