Language and grammar are your most powerful tools of communication.
Whether you belong to the Fourth Estate (news media) or you mold the brand of a client or company, you have an important role to fill. You must write clearly and concisely to your intended audience what you are intending to impart. Grammar is at the core. Here are a few reasons for why one should always be careful:
- Normally, people overlook grammar as trivial, but a simple rewording of a sentence can change meaning, understandability, and even the effect of what one communicated.
- Professionally, clean grammar is like showing up to work on time, wearing appropriate work attire, or showing respect to others. You would not want to show up to an interview shoddily prepared with an unorganized portfolio.
- As storytellers in the news and PR, you will be much more trustworthy and respected if your facts are correct, your language is clear, and your grammar is clean.
Why is Associated Press style important?
Not everyone in the industry agrees that AP style is the perfect standard, but professionals widely accept it and will agree that its purpose is valid.
If one ever travels abroad, one will surely run into more stylebooks at different news organizations than here in the United States. The first thing one will notice is how different some publications write from one to another. If news organizations share stories from one publication to another through a wire service, this becomes a problem.
AP style presents a solution based on a handful of major points:
- Firstly, AP style is for journalists so that news organizations can share stories over the wire without the need for change in format, grammar, or style. If one is in public relations, AP style is just as important. If one writes a press release in AP style, reporters will have to spend less time changing the article. That also means the press release will change less.
- The AP Stylebook updates annually. That is because culture and society are constantly changing. When new terminology comes up, the AP Stylebook adapts to provide the industry with a standard everyone can agree on.
- In the second part of the AP Stylebook, you will find specific sections based on different beats (i.e. sports, fashion, business, etc.). These sections aid reporters in their respective beats to write cleaner, more organized copy.
- Much of the AP Stylebook offers guidance on grammar and proper proofreading. It is a great way to stay on top of one’s copyediting skills.
The most effective way to learn AP style is first to read or scan through one full letter chapter every few days. When you finish, you will find yourself in writing scenarios when you instinctively remember that a rule applies. Familiarization is the first step. In addition, for those of you willing to pay the extra buck for time efficiency, AP Stylebook has an application for smart devices.
Dealing with Deadlines
Deadlines can make this class difficult. Many of you are new to writing in Associated Press style. Therefore, when an assignment is due by the end of class, it is perfectly natural to feel some pressure.
Here are some ways to make your writing process go a little smoother for you.
Style, grammar and spelling:
Always bring your AP Stylebook with you to lab as of Week 3. Bookmark rules we have gone over in the book with Post-It tags or something that enables you to turn quickly to the referenced rule. If you are using the app on your phone or tablet, you can select the rules and put them on a favorites list. The book is also online.
As for spelling, our go-to dictionary is Merriam-Webster. If there is a question between two acceptable spellings, this dictionary will serve as the standard for the entire semester.
Editing/proofreading quick tips:
- Reading aloud –If you read aloud, you can hear what the text sounds like. You may catch a wording that does not sound right, and there it will be – an error. If it feels strange to read your article with others around you, you can step briefly outside. This technique is definitely worth it.
- Check marks – Use them. I have consistently noticed a difference in fact error frequency when students slowly check over each proper name, address, and statement of figure. Do not rush. The ideal strategy is to give you time.
- Planning – Take two-thirds of your allotted time to write your draft. Use the remaining time to proofread and polish your article. You should aim to finish your draft at least 15 minutes before the deadline. If you are writing your draft until the last few minutes, you will not have the time to properly proofread.
- The pen/pencil – Use an object to force yourself to read your article one line at a time by placing the pen over the next line. This breaks up the rhythm and forces you to analyze the mechanics.
- Take a break – Stand up. Go outside. Get a drink or snack from the snack machine. Walk back in. Read your article once more before you turn it in. With a fresh pair of eyes, you may just spot an error.
FUN HISTORICAL FACT:
The United States’ history begins with fighting for freedoms of speech and expression. Take just a moment on your own to reflect on how the news media fanned the flames of the revolution. Newspapers were the only form of media during the 1700s, and circulation was limited compared to today. Still, historians note that newspapers played a pivotal role in General George Washington’s famous winter campaign of 1777, providing important post-battle reports from all fronts.
- You can find more information on the role of newspapers at the following site: http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/the-revolutionary-war/reporting-the-revolutionary-war-an-interview-with-todd-andrlik/
- Additionally, I am sure you all have heard of Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet, Common Sense, but did you know he wrote a second series that Washington used to spur his troops toward eventual victory? Read more here: http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2015/12/how-thomas-paines-other-pamphlet-saved-the-revolution/
ALWAYS remember that words can have an incredible effect on your audience.