AP vs Chicago Manual of Style: Which Stylebook is Right for You?

I remember the day in journalism school when I learned we wouldn’t be using Oxford commas. You know, the ones that make it so that you don’t end up with a sentence that reads:

“I love my parents, Bill Clinton and Madonna.”

But AP style dictates that it read that way.

So I spent the next 4 years ruthlessly editing out those suckers, despite it being against my own beliefs.

That brings me to the main topic of this post. Should you use an Oxford comma or not? When do you write out numbers as opposed to just using the numeral?

These are the questions that only a stylebook can answer. If you are producing content with any regularity, you likely have more than one person producing it. This often leads to inconsistencies throughout a blog.

That’s where stylebooks come in. Major content producers, like large media outlets and even large marketing companies, have their own stylebook to set a consistent tone throughout their content. Most of these are established by picking between either the “AP Stylebook” or the “Chicago Manual of Style” as a base.

What’s the difference?

The AP Stylebook

As its name suggests, the “AP Stylebook” is born from the Associated Press, one of the most commonly used wire services in media. That means that its style is derived from the world of print newspapers, where clear, concise writing meant saving space and money at the printers. While those traditional constraints are now out of date with the rise of digital media, the style remains similar.

This comes out in various forms throughout the stylebook:

  • Oxford/Serial Comma: I’ve been reading that AP is saying now that you only use the serial comma when it affects the meaning of the sentence. Most sources say that it doesn’t get used.
  • Spell out all numbers up to 10, then use numerals after that
  • Book titles belong in quotation marks

Common Usage: Most people who write articles, blog posts and obviously news stories will use this style.

The Chicago Manual of Style

The first edition of the book was 203 pages, which has since evolved into a book that is more than 1,000 pages. It covers much more than the AP Stylebook, which generally covers only common words and their usage. This style guide is mainly used in most long-form publishing.

There are several distinctions that are made in the Chicago Manual of Style:

  • Oxford/Serial Comma: Always use the serial comma
  • Ellipses: While they are used like “…” in AP style, in Chicago style they are written “. . .”
  • Spell out all numbers 99 and under, then use numerals from there

There are a lot more differences than the handful I listed above. I recommend this blog, which is solely dedicated to the differences between the two stylebooks.

Common Usage: Long-form writing, fiction, and academic writing all commonly use this style.

Which Stylebook Should You Use?

At some point during every content-producing company’s journey, there comes a time where it becomes necessary to pick a stylebook.

Which one should you pick?

The short answer is: whatever your audience would pick.

The longer answer to this question involves getting into the head of your potential prospects. You know, like every other piece of advice in marketing. If you’re stumped, turn to your audience, because they might care more about a style than you.

For example, if your prospects and audience are teachers or professors, they will prefer the CMOS over AP style. They are used to reading papers written in this style and when they do their own work that is the stylebook they will use

For most other people, the AP stylebook is a better fit. This extends not just the people who write in AP on a daily basis, like journalists and PR professionals, but people who wouldn’t care what stylebook is being used. The kind of articles that the average person will read on a daily basis are written in AP style. So follow the format they are used to.

The Next Step

After you’ve picked a stylebook that fits most of your needs, you might notice that certain guidelines just don’t make sense with your branding.

Maybe it’s the way the CMOS addresses the word “email.” AP recently changed from “e-mail” to “email,” but CMOS has continued to spell it as “e-mail.”

This is why most companies have a stylesheet, which is basically a document that mentions at the top which one of the popular stylebooks your company uses, then goes on to list its own personal exceptions to that stylebook.

Hubspot has a nice guide to doing this.

Why is it important?

Consistency. Unless your audience is composed of fellow writers or grammar teachers, then they will likely not take note of the stylebook you are using. But consistency is important in writing, both throughout articles and across your blog. It makes sure you spell out all the numbers below 99 in your article or just those below 10.

As you take on more writers, you will find many asking you which stylebook your company uses. If they don’t, make sure to inform them. This helps ensure that your writer is following the same style guidelines as everyone else, which in turn makes your editor’s job that much easier.

Let us know in the comments section:

  • Do you use a stylebook?
  • Which one?
  • Does it help?

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Comments (3)

[…] an online subscription). If you haven’t picked a stylebook yet, I would recommend reading this post about picking and creating your own stylebook and […]

[…] easy way to make these decisions is to agree on a style guide such as The Chicago Manual of Style or The Associated Press […]

[…] you need to adopt a stylebook, then tweak it to reflect your business and […]

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