Proofreading Tips: Abbreviations in AP Style

AP style is commonly used by journalists, marketers, and PR specialists, whose writing often includes abbreviations. So, if you’re proofreading a document that uses AP style, you’ll need to know how abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms should be presented.

With that in mind, then, this guide covers how abbreviations should be used in AP style.

General Guidance on Abbreviations in AP Style

The AP Stylebook has a few key recommendations for use of abbreviations:

  • Avoid alphabet soup (i.e., when several abbreviations are used in succession, making text hard to follow). For more on alphabet soup, see here.
  • Avoid abbreviations and most acronyms in headlines.
  • Only use abbreviations the intended readers will recognize.

This last point means you need to be aware of the audience for your client’s writing. There are, of course, some common abbreviations and acronyms that most people will recognize. But lesser-known terms should be reserved for specialist audiences.

For example, it would be acceptable to refer to the United Nations with the initialism UN for most audiences as this is a well-known global organization. However, your client would need to write the initialism ILO out in full when referring to the International Labour Organization for the first time in a document aimed at the general public.

Thus, if you spot an acronym or initialism in a document that wouldn’t be recognized by its audience, make sure it is introduced in full (at least on its first mention). And if an abbreviation’s meaning could be ambiguous, it should always be given in full.

Introducing Acronyms in AP Style

If a client wishes to introduce an acronym, they should give the full term first, then switch to the initialism on subsequent uses. However, unlike many style guides, AP style does not require acronyms to be defined in parentheses. For example:

The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its coronavirus advice for the public yesterday. WHO has stated that any decision to hold an event during the COVID-19 pandemic should rely on a risk-based approach.

The World Health Organization updated their coronavirus advice for the public yesterday. WHO has stated that any decision to hold an event during the COVID-19 pandemic should rely on a risk-based approach.

Abbreviations Used with Numerals

The AP Stylebook permits use of several abbreviations with numbers, times, or dates, such as “a.m.,” “p.m.,” “A.D.,” “B.C.E.,” and “No.” These do not need to be introduced in full:

Julius Caesar began his rise to power in 60 B.C.E.

The meeting took place at 8 p.m.

In addition, months more than five letters long should be abbreviated when used with a day. When written alone, though, months should be spelled out in full. For example:

The call arrived at 6 a.m. on 15 Feb. 2021.

In England, August is usually wetter than February.

When proofreading, then, make sure that your client has written abbreviations related to times and dates consistently and in line with AP style’s guidelines.

State Names in AP Style

US state names, when written after a town, city, or military base, should normally be abbreviated. However, the AP Stylebook makes an exception for non-contiguous states and states with names shorter than five letters. For example:

 He liked to spend his summers back in his hometown of Denver, Colo.

Alaska just recorded its hottest ever winter.

She spent the rest of the year working in Des Moines, Iowa.

It is also worth noting that AP style has a standard set of state abbreviations, which are not the same as postal code abbreviations. If your client mentions a US state, then, it might be worth checking whether they have written it correctly for AP style.

Abbreviations with Names and Titles

AP style favors abbreviating all honorific titles before names, as well as suffixes after names. This includes “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Dr.,” “Sr.,” “Jr.,” and academic titles such as “Ph.D.”

The AP Stylebook is also a US English style guide, so it advises punctuating these terms. If your client is writing for a UK or Australian audience, though, they may choose to omit the full stop (e.g., James Keyson PhD, Mrs Merrifield). If this is the case, there is no need to add punctuation; you should just ensure they have written honorific titles consistently.

Your client can also abbreviate words such as “company,” “incorporated,” “limited,” and “corporation” when used after the name of a business entity. For example:

Delicious Pancake Co.

Proofed Inc.

Jacob & Sons Ltd.

The Aqua Slide Corp.

However, these full formal names are not required when discussing an organization. And even when they are used, they can be omitted after the first mention.

Punctuating Abbreviations

If your client is using American English, AP style advises punctuating two-letter abbreviations such as “U.S.,” “U.K.,” “U.N.,” “B.C.,” and “A.D.” For longer abbreviations, full stops are only used when the acronym would spell an unrelated word (e.g., T.R.A.I.N.).  However, you should also be aware of two key exceptions to this rule:

  • Initialisms within a headline should not be punctuated unless for clarity.
  • Some two-letter abbreviations are exempt, notably EU, ID, and GI. Trademarked terms written without punctuation are also exempt (including AP).

Keep dialect in mind, though! Other than US English, most dialects don’t punctuate two-letter acronyms such as “U.S.” and “U.K.,” as noted above for “Mr.,” “Dr.,” etc.

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Join the Conversation

Molly A Badgett says:
July 3, 2022 at 1:06PM
WHO is an organization, so the proper pronoun is "its," not "their," or else you would write, "WHO have" vs. "WHO has."
    Knowadays says:
    July 5, 2022 at 8:30AM
    Hi, Molly. Thanks for pointing out the inconsistency: I think this was actually just a result of missing the "their" when localizing the content (i.e., it was originally written in British English, where using plural verbs and pronouns for organizations or groups is common), but we've now corrected it for the US version of the post.

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