A Guide to Media Styles

September 25th, 2013
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Is your writing up to style guide snuff?Most professional writers get itchy when they see typos, grammatical errors, and incorrect punctuation. When I was an editor and journalist, I ignored or deleted press releases that were poorly written, filled with errors, or totally irrelevant. Other media professionals do the same thing, so you need to make sure your material doesn’t fall into that same black hole.

Writers adhere to their outlet’s official style guide, so PR professionals crafting material for the media need to be familiar with the basics of the most common style guides. Understanding these style guides – and even learning some of their guidelines – can only improve your writing, which can only improve your chances at piquing an editor’s interest.

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

The Elements of Style is a manifesto for clear, effective writing. Packed with helpful guidelines and grammar rules, EOS was first published in 1918 and most recently updated in 2000. EOS covers rules of usage, principles of composition, misused words and expressions, and style tips. At only 103 pages, it’s accessible and necessary for anyone who ever writes anything.

EOS quick tip: Omit needless words. Instead of “He is a man who knows what he’s doing,” write “He knows what he’s doing.” Once you start looking, you’d be surprised how many words are unnecessary.

The Associated Press Style Book and Briefing on Media Law

Since its debut in 1953, The AP Stylebook has become the industry standard for newspapers, magazines, and other journalism media and is excellent tool to have in one’s PR belt. Updated every year, the stylebook’s most recent edition is nearly 500 pages, which diminishes its day-to-day practicality for those who aren’t copy editors. But the guide’s ubiquity means it’s particularly important to grasp the basics and employ them in your writing.

AP Stylebook quick tip: Capitalize formal titles when they appear immediately before a name. For example, “President Fitzwilliam Grant will seek a second term.” Don’t capitalize the title if it appears between commas, like “Fitzwilliam Grant, the current president, will seek a second term.”

The Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style, or CMOS, is, like AP style, one of the most widely-used style guides in the U.S. CMOS is used primarily in the publishing industry. First published in 1906 and last updated with its 16th edition in 2010, CMOS has a section dedicated to citations, making it particularly useful to those in the academic and research fields.

CMOS quick tip: Access to the CMOS Q&A section is free (unlike AP’s Q&A section, which requires a subscription), so you can check out some of the rules without purchasing the guide, though rules differ from the AP’s.

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage

The Gray Lady has her own style guide, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. Initially created in 1950 (three years before the AP’s guide), the guide’s most recent print edition was published in 2002, but editors at the paper use an online version that is frequently updated but not available to the public.

NYT Manual quick tips: The New York Times uses courtesy titles before a person’s last name, for example, “George Smith went to Washington. Mr. Smith is a senate page.” In AP style, that would read “George Smith Went to Washington. Smith is a senate page.” The New York Times also writes “e-mail,” though AP did away with the dash in 2011.

House Style

Many publications, companies, and organizations have their own house style guide; those I have seen are all based on AP style. Those who write any public content for their organization should know (and update) their house style guide and enforce it. If the organization has a copy editor or designated writer, ask that he or she provide a copy of the style guide to all employees, and that everyone is alerted to any changes.

What does your company use? How do you decide which style points to follow?

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