AP Style Numbers

The Associated Press Stylebook is a usage guide for newspapers and other channels of broadcasting media in the United States. Its guidelines for numbers refers to the manner and the standard in which numbers should be presented in media. There is certainly a need for standardization in the way that these outlets express themselves, and it is the AP Stylebook that forms the basis for a unified style.

Every June, Associated Press editors issue the Stylebook. The rule is that all newspapers, magazines and other publishers have to follow the rules that are mentioned, so that there is never any ambiguity because of which a reader can get confused. Along with the guidelines on numbers, the Stylebook also gives guidelines with regard to business and sports news; punctuation, photo caption, and bibliography rules; editing marks and a briefing on media law.

The primary rule for numbers 1-10 is to not use numerals for the numbers, but to always spell them out completely. For example, it is wrong to write “Life was brought to a standstill by the heavy snowfall of last 3 days.” Instead, one can say “Life was brought to a standstill by the heavy snowfall of last three days”. However, there are some exceptional circumstances under which the use of numeral figures will be permitted. These circumstances are as follows.

  • When starting a sentence with a year.
  • When talking about someone’s age, a figure of money, a year, a day of a month, dimensions, a serial number, time, percentage, degrees of temperature, scores, votes, proportions, speeds, and house numbers.
  • Ordinal numbers above 9 should use figures. For example, 10th, 51st, 73rd, and 92nd. On the other hand, for numbers below 9, use alphabets. For example, ninth, fifth, fourth and first.

When all newspapers and publishers follow the same patterns, a sense of standardization is ingrained in the industry, and it also reduces confusion in the mind of the reader. Guidelines for headlines is also given in the style book, and knowledge of these rules will help you recognize this style the next time you see it.

  • Always express a large sum with the word ‘million’ or ‘billion’. For example, never say $50,000,000. Always say $50 million.
  • Never carry a decimal figure beyond two decimal points.
  • Avoid the use of unnecessary numbers, or zeros. Express time as 3 P.M., and not 3:00 P.M. and express money as $1 and not $1.00.
  • Never use Roman Numerals, unless it is part of someone’s name or title.
  • Try not to use consecutive numerals in one single sentence. For example, never say “3 4-feet boards”, but express it as “three 4-feet boards”, or “3 four-feet boards”.
  • Always insert commas in numbers that have four or more numerals, except in the case of years.
  • Try to spell out fractions as often as possible, especially when they are appearing in individual sentences.

This information should be enough for any new aspiring reporters and writers looking to get into journalism. Thousands of people read newspapers and other publications on a daily basis, and the need for standardization should not be undermined or underestimated.

Every year some new additions are made to the Stylebook, and these need to be adhered to by reporters and journalists in the United States.

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