Chapter 11

Chapter 11 - Style

All professional writing is subject to some kind of style -- the rules of writing for the medium in which the writing will appear. Style rules impose a consistency on the writing, and all writers need to learn and apply style rules to their writing.

Style also involves an attitude that journalists should develop about their writing. Journalists should be interested in the language and how it develops. They should be willing to take special care to make sure their writing is efficient, precise and accurate. They should understand that their own opinions and attitudes are of little consequence to the reader, who simply wants the information they have to provide.

Study questions

  • Why is style important? Make sure you know at least two reasons.

  • What stylebook is the most important one to journalists?

  • What is meant by the "impersonal reporter"?

  • Why is it important for a journalist to be careful in describing people?

Chapter notes

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 Chicago/cmosfaq/about.html
  • U.S. Government Printing Office Manual of Style
  • Modern Language Association (MLA) stylebook
  • United Press International Stylebook and Guide to News Writing

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. Here is a guide to beginning the development of a local stylebook.

AP style quizzes. Style rules are not difficult, but they must be learned – committed to memory and then applied to copy. The following is a set of 20-to-25-question quizzes on some of the most important common AP style rules:
  • AP style quiz 5W-01 (This is the AP style quiz that appears on pages 207=209 of the book.)
  • AP style quiz 5W-02
  • AP style quiz 5W-03
  • AP style quiz 5W-04

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. (

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.

Key concepts and terms

• Style in journalism is not a way of forming phrases or sentences (as in literary style) but rather refers to the rules of usage and the discipline the writer imposes on the writing.

• The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual is the chief arbiter of style rules in print and web journalism.

• Most news organizations have a local stylebook, a publication that supplements the AP Stylebook and lays down the rules for local references.

• According to the AP Stylebook, there is one and only one way to spell a word.

• Adherence to style rules is one of the ways that a journalist has of maintaining the aura of the “impersonal reporter.”

• Journalists should take some care to make sure their words and phrases are not disparaging or insulting to any part of their audience.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 11

No train, no gain

The Slot

AP Stylebook

American Copyeditors Society

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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