3 – Style and the Stylebook

Adherence to journalistic style — both the rules of writing and usage and the customs of journalism — is a mark of a professional writer. This chapter should help students understand that when they enter the world of the mass media, they will have to meet certain expectations about their work. One of the most basic expectations concerns style.

This chapter gives the student an idea about the importance of knowing and using a particular style of writing and of understanding the customs and conventions of journalism. The chief goal of the journalist is accuracy, and many of the styles and conventions of journalism that have been developed over the years have been to promote this goal. The same can be said of these style rules and conventions as they apply to clarity and brevity. Instructors should help the students see the relationship between all of these concepts as they go through this chapter.

Key terms and concepts

Students should have a good understanding of all of the concepts set forth in the diagram. Especially important among these are:

Accuracy — The short definition in journalism for accuracy is “getting it right.” Discuss with your students what they believe that means. How do you go about “getting it right?” Differing points of view about a situation should be brought into this discussion. What methods does a writer for the mass media use in obtaining and presenting accurate information?

Consistency — One of the underlying concepts of adherence to style is consistency. Consistency in writing helps the reader in establishing what to expect from a writer. It also helps to make a writer more efficient. Knowledge and consistent use of style can boost the confidence of the writer.


Links and resources

Associated Press Stylebook. If you are electronically inclined, you can purchase a subscription to an online version of the Associated Press Stylebook. Users can search the entirety of the print version of the stylebook. Another benefit is the ability to save notes regarding existing entries or to add one’s own for a customized stylebook.



Guide to AP style. Professor Michael S. Sweeney gives visitors a quick list of commonly used AP style entries. Additionally, there are suggestions for spelling and punctuation. Visitors may also link to a sample AP test complete with answers.



Newsroom 101. For aspiring journalists who enjoy (or need) to test their skills on AP style, grammar or usage, this site has more than 2,000 exercises. Every chapter of the stylebook is addressed, as are some common writing errors committed by beginning reporters.



Chapter notes

Local stylebooks. Almost all publications have local stylebooks. These books (or guides — sometimes they are only a few pages long) deal with questions that will not be answered by the AP stylebook. For instance, how do you refer to the name of your institution on first reference (Maplehurst University) and second reference (the University – capitalized)? Do you use “Dr.” to refer to people with a Ph.D. degree? (The AP stylebook says you should not, but your publication may want to do that.) Local stylebooks help a publication continue the quest for consistency and discipline in writing. They may also reflect the particular situation at your college or school. A guide to beginning the development of a local stylebook is located at JPROF.com.


Words That Make a Difference. Loving the language is no sin, particularly in these days of language abuse. Those of us who do love the language need to feed our habits occasionally, and Words That Make a Difference will certainly do that. This is a fascinating book about words. Robert Greenman, the author, has collected words that are rich in meaning and passages from the New York Times that demonstrate their use. Every page or so, Greenman chimes in with his own commentary about the origins and usage of a particular word. You will open this book, start flipping through the pages and then find you have spent an hour or so in Greenman’s world of words. It’s a good journey. Once you get your copy, you’ll probably want to buy another for a friend of like mind

Other stylebooks. The chapter refers to a number of stylebooks other than the AP stylebook, which is the chief style manual for journalists. Here are some links to the web sites of some other major stylebooks:

• Chicago Manual of Style


• U.S. Government Printing Office Manual of Style


• Modern Language Association (MLA) stylebook



More than the rules. Style is more than learning the AP style rules (although that is most important). The concept of style includes the approach the journalist takes toward the job. That is why the chapter includes short discussions of balance and fairness, the inverted pyramid and the impersonality of reporting. A good journalist must take on the mean of the “humble servant” and must be modest both in writing and in demeanor. Unfortunately, we are living in an immodest age, where people are taught to reveal everything about themselves and to be proud of their deficiencies. Russell Baker, the retired New York Times columnist, articulates this at the beginning of his review of a set of books about the journalist and critic A. J. Liebling:

Rereading A.J. Liebling carries me happily back to an age when all good journalists knew they had plenty to be modest about, and were. From the 1920s through the Eisenhower years modesty was a clearly defined style in the American press, but it was already fading when Liebling died in 1963. By then what had once been “the press” had turned into “the media” and contracted the imperial state of mind, which is never conducive to modesty, whether in tsars of all the Russias or Washington correspondents.

Baker’s entire review can be found here. (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17552)

Language sensitivity. Take a look at the section on language sensitivity in this chapter. Are the concerns expressed in this section valid? Are there concerns about this issue that the author does not address? Students should be allowed to have a wide-ranging discussion about this issue. They should try to articulate their feelings about the topic, and they should be able to react—civilly, of course — to the opinions of others.

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